PCHRD BSP Awardees share initiatives in health R&D for the New Normal during the annual BSP Convention

With the theme Agham at Teknolohiya: Sandigan ng Kalusugan, Kabuhayan, Kaayusan at Kinabukasan, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) held an online forum last 17 November 2020 to provide updates on the recent technologies and researches in the areas of health, agriculture, aquatic, industry, energy, and emerging technologies.

During the online forum, the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) hosted the breakout session for the “New Normal in Health” where PCHRD Balik Scientist Awardees discussed various studies and initiatives to guide the public into the new normal brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The PCHRD Balik Scientists who were able to share their studies are Dr. Raymond Francis Sarmiento from the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila, Dr. Thomas Neil Pascual from the DOST – Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (DOST-PNRI), Dr. Jhalique Jane Fojas from the Harvard University, and Dr. Romulo De Castro from the University of San Agustin.

Dr. Sarmiento discussed the importance of having a strong information system in his presentation on “Digital Platforms and Interoperability of COVID-19 Information Systems.” Information systems play a critical role in managing data and other information at the speed the situation requires. In the Philippines, several information systems such as the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler (FASSSTER) were able to guide the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) in their real-time decision making on what effective interventions should be placed in order manage the pandemic. Since then, the Department of Health (DOH) has been reporting significantly lesser viral transmission each day.

Dr. Pascual shared his insights on “Enhancing Nuclear Medicine Service and Research Capacity in the Philippines.” In his presentation, he revealed that the recent investment of DOST on the establishment of the Nuclear Medicine Research Development and Innovation Center (NMRDIC) in Diliman, Quezon City, which is a research based Cylotron and PET/CT imaging facility can address both the burden of COVID-19 and cancer by providing research opportunities for improved clinical management of patients and by making the procedure both accessible and affordable to even more Filipinos

Dr. Fojas talked about “Microfluidics: Towards POC Medicine and COVID-19.” Lab-on-a-chip devices, which often use microfluidics, provide more cost-effective disease detection and many other uses, from monitoring to treatment. In her discussion, Dr. Fojas revealed that one of the successful applications of microfluidics is on the Zika Virus Detection Device which is a point of care diagnostic tool that was able to accurately detect the virus from patients faster and at a cheaper price compared to the usual testing method. Dr. Fojas believes that the same concepts used in the device can also be utilized for other viruses like COVID-19 to aid in the testing and management of the virus. 

Dr. De Castro presented “Informatics Response to COVID-19.” His team from the University of San Agustin Center for Informatics (CFI) was able to develop the “COVID-19 Toolkit”, an information system to assist local governments, private organizations, and health decision makers across the Philippines in their response to COVID-19. This toolkit contains guidelines, recommendations, data, estimation tools and support, and informatics tools for contract tracing and monitoring. Currently, the CFI is collaborating with research partners from UP Diliman, UP Manila, UP Visayas, and the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) to offer free epidemiological modeling services to the Local Government Units (LGUs).

The session was facilitated and moderated by Dr. Arnulfo Rosario, a PCHRD Balik Scientist Awardee and a former research fellow under the Public Health Informatics Fellowship Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at Atlanta, Georgia. To date, Dr. Rosario is the Project Director and Senior Lecturer in the Medical Informatics Unit at UP Manila.

Another PCHRD Balik Scientist, Dr. Gerard Dumancas from the Louisiana State University, did a presentation on “Teaching Innovations in the New Normal: Perspective from a Liberal Arts University in the United States” for the breakout session on the “New Normal in Education.

The Balik Scientist Program (BSP) was established in 1975 to encourage foreign-based Filipinos to return to the country and impart their knowledge and expertise for the advancement of research and development in the country, as well as address development gaps. The program was institutionalized back in June 2018 through the Republic Act 11035 also known as the Balik Scientist Act. From 1975 to 2019, a total of 533 have become recipients of the BSP, sharing their expertise in the areas of agriculture, industry, and health sectors.  

To know more about the BSP, visit their website at https://bspms.dost.gov.ph/