Investing in R&D
Among local government units in Metro Manila, Marikina has stood out for its passionate effort to have its own testing facility for coronavirus disease 2019. After hurdling the process of approval and getting the green light from the Department of Health, the testing facility is finally operational, and the COVID-19 testing kits used will soon be commercially available.
These facilities, which neighboring towns can also use, have undoubtedly given Marikina greater readiness than some other LGUs to shift from the enhanced community quarantine to an easier general quarantine. And this readiness highlights the importance of scientific research and development.
The COVID testing kits being used by the city were developed by local company Manila HealthTek Inc. headed by infectious disease specialist Dr. Raul Destura of the Philippine Genome Center. Destura also headed a team of medical researchers at the University of the Philippines Manila-National Institutes of Health that developed a dengue diagnostic kit, which is ready for commercial distribution locally and overseas.
With greater investment in research and development, the country’s mass testing capability in this pandemic could have been greater and ramped up earlier. With sufficient support for R&D, local scientists may even meet the challenge of President Duterte to develop a vaccine, or at least an effective medical intervention to treat COVID-19.
Only 0.4 percent of the annual national budget, however, goes to R&D – about .15 percent of gross domestic product. The global average allocation is 1 percent of GDP. Science Secretary Fortunato de la Peña says his department’s 2020 budget for R&D on health is being eaten up by COVID matters and will likely run out by the end of this month. That will slow down efforts to develop a local ventilator or respirator, which COVID patients need, and which President Duterte hopes to see in use for this pandemic.
The executive is currently preparing its proposal for the national budget for 2021. After seeing the importance of R&D in dealing with a public health emergency, both Malacañang and Congress should give R&D the funding priority that it deserves.