Innovation and ingenuity against Covid-19


Clearly, the Covid-19 pandemic is unfolding at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. Thankfully, in the face of such a gargantuan crisis, Filipinos have reached deep within themselves to find ingenious ways of rising to the challenge. Indeed, aside from our frontliners, particularly those in the health care and commercial sectors, our inventors and innovators have also been fighting the good fight.

A foremost example is the Covid-19 test kit developed by Dr. Raul Destura of the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health (UP-NIH). These kits were presented to the public soon after the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine was implemented, but weren’t immediately rolled out pending validation by the Food and Drug Administration. Now, with FDA approval, Manila HealthTek is ready to manufacture these GenAmplify Covid-19 testing kits, and the first batch of reagents that will be used for the test kits will be able to accommodate up to 120,000 tests. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) will allot P53.2 million to fund development for the kits.

Another instance was with the Office of Vice President Leni Robredo. In light of the apparent lack of personal protective equipment (PPEs) for our frontliners, Vice President Robredo sought the public’s help in creating a locally available protective suit for our health-care frontliners. Fashion designer Mich Dulce threw her hat in, and others followed suit. The approved design, medically reviewed by experts in California, was made by Joey Socco, using Taffeta Silver Back Lining. The pattern for the suit and its specifics were quickly made available to the public, specifically to the mananahi cooperatives who were ready to get to work.

Various 3D printer owners and fabrication facilities around the country addressed another dimension of the PPE problem. The 3D Printing For A Cause group has been using their 3D printers to make DIY face shields and masks, and as of March 23, had been able to fulfill 2,123 requests for face shields, out of 13,000. Fabrication labs such as Digihub FabLab Davao, Batangas State University’s LIKHA FabLab, FabLab Caraga, Jose Rizal Memorial State University’s FabLab and the FabLabs, attached personnel, and resources in UP Diliman and UP Cebu are all producing face shield components to be assembled into full units for distribution to institutions that have requested for these PPE items. Metatech Labs, a new company specializing in Internet of Things (IT) applications, is also organizing a 3D print farm for face shields, in collaboration with the UP College of Engineering. Even printing and design studios like Orange Segment are pitching in.

In Nueva Ecija, a group of young engineers designed a disinfection chamber that can be used for facilities that will be used for the Covid-19 outbreak—with a material cost of P2,500. Such chambers could definitely be put to good use once the government’s plans to convert the World Trade Center, the Rizal Memorial Stadium, and the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) into Covid-19 facilities materializes.

Meanwhile, FAME (Futuristic Aviation and Marine Enterprise)—a company that the Usaid has partnered with to equip small-scale fishing vessels with sensors and transmitters—recently posted videos of a prototype it developed for a first responder breathing apparatus, which can help people waiting in line for a ventilator. Hopefully, their prototype is picked up and will prove to be useful in the frontline.

One should also take note of how many of the country’s major distilleries—such as those of Ginebra San Miguel, Emperador, Asia Brewery and Tanduay—have been repurposed to produce ethyl alcohol for our frontliners.

I can’t help but be impressed and inspired by all of these developments. On one hand, they demonstrate that in certain instances we already possess some of the major components needed to effectively fight this pandemic.

On the other hand, they underscore the importance of building up our technological know-how and our capacity to innovate as a nation. This is one of the broad aims of the Tatak Pinoy initiative I have written extensively about before. Indeed, technology has the potential to be used in many ways other than its original purpose. If we develop local technologies and innovations for our economic well-being, we also gain the ability to equip ourselves for future challenges, aside from expanding our toolset for economic development.

Covid-19 is teaching us many hard lessons. But I hope that once we emerge from this pandemic, it will finally be drilled into our heads to provide even greater support and encouragement for the science, research, technology, and manufacturing sectors.

Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—nine years as representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws.  He recently won another term in the Senate.

E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @sonnyangara.

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