Story & photo by Edd K. Usman / Special to the BusinessMirror
Science saves lives; science saves Filipino babies’ lives. That should not be a subject of debate. Medical and health breakthroughs through the years have provided enough proofs.
In the Philippines a collaboration between the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and University of University of the Philippines (UP) System has added to those proofs.
Dr. Carmencita David Padilla’s newborn screening (NBS) has saved more than 120,000 babies from illness and death from among the 10,653,226 babies screened.
Padilla made the disclosure at the media briefing in Quezon City during the launching of “Aghambayan”: A DOST-UP Science and Technology and Innovation Festival on May 30.
Padilla, the chancellor of UP Manila, a professor of pediatrics and a pioneer not only in the Philippines but also in the Asia-Pacific region, is behind the Newborn Screening Act of 2004 (Republic Act 9288). The law called for the implementation of NBS services in the country’s health institutions with birthing facilities.
She led an expert team of researchers in 1996 to study newborn screening. It resulted in her writing a bill on NBS that eventually became a law in 2014.
“Infant mortality was high sometime in 1985 to 1995; I think [there were] 55 deaths per 1,000 live births. Now, we have 21 deaths per 1,000 live births,” Padilla reported.
The Philippine Council for Health Research and Development of the DOST provided P500,000 for the research, with UP Manila giving P1.5 million to the NBS.
Acknowledging the uptick in surviving babies since the law was implemented, she hastened to add, though, that it should not end at that point.
“Why do babies die between birth to 1 year of age? Perhaps, the baby had an ailment that the medical professionals, who assisted in the delivery, and the baby’s parents, did not know about,” Padilla pointed out. That’s where NBS comes in to save babies’ lives.
“Newborn screening,” she said, “is a universally accepted public health program aimed at the early identification of infants who are affected by certain genetic, metabolic or infectious conditions,” Padilla explained.
NBS, she underscored, is a very cheap procedure but it has to be done starting at seven days of birth.
Screening the babies, she said, benefits the country $11 million (at least P563 million) a year.
10,653,226 babies screened
To date the country has 6,500 NBS facilities and six laboratories nationwide.
Across the globe, she said, developed and developing countries are already implementing NBS for decades. “So, we thought the Philippines had to catch up with pediatric and obstetrics procedures going on worldwide.”
Padilla cited the success of the newborn screening program.
“We have testimonials attesting to that. Some of the babies, who were screened when the law was starting to be implemented, are all grown-ups and are in college now. They have inspiring stories,” she said.
As of December 2017 the NBS has already screened 10,653,226 babies.
Padilla said that from 1996 the NBS already saved “more than 120,000 babies from mental retardation and death!”
“We now have enough data to show how beneficial it is, because we are expanding to screen from six health conditions to 28 health conditions. And it is now covered by the Philippine Health Insurance System,” she said.
Initially her project, titled as Philippine NBS Project, was testing only six metabolic conditions, such as hypothyroidism, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, galactosemia, phenylketonuria, homocystinuria and glucose-6-phosphate dehydorgenase deficiency. Since 2014 the NBS is being done on 28 conditions.
Feed ingredient, LiDAR
The success of Padilla’s groundbreaking NBS research was one of the three R&D success stories featured during the media launch for Aghambayan.
The two others were the Protein Enriched Copra Meal (PECM): A Valuable Protein Feed Ingredient for the Livestock and Aquaculture Industries, led by Dr. Laura J. Pham, and the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and Data for Disaster Risk and Exposure Assessment for Mitigation (DREAM) Program headed by Dr. Enrico C. Paringit.
Pham is a university researcher with vast experience at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, UP Los Baños, Laguna, while Paringit is an erstwhile chairman of the UP Department of Geodetic Engineering and director of the Training Center for Applied Geodesy and Photogrammetry.
The latter’s LiDAR-DREAM, now Philippine LiDAR I and Philippine LiDAR II, “is one of the biggest if not the biggest R&D projects supported by the [DOST]” which develops and deploys technologies to provide life-saving information to communities endanger of environmental hazards.
All three R&D products are already being utilized in the country. Pham’s research focused on the “bio-conversion of copra meal into a protein-rich ingredient…that can partially substitute imported soybean meal to boost the livestock and poultry production.”
Celebration of scientific projects, achievements
On June 20 scientists, engineers and researchers and other like-minded people from the country’s scientific community will gather at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City to celebrate their scientific projects and achievements intended to benefit the citizens and the nation.
Branded as Aghambayan it is aimed at raising public awareness of the value of science and its role in improving ordinary Filipinos’ quality of life; they are what the DOST calls “Juana and Juan.”
Behind the event are the DOST and the UP System. The two have been collaborating in hundreds, if not already thousands, of programs and projects intended to give flesh to science through researches and their products that Filipinos can taste, see, touch, smell and hear.
Also participating in the event are government agencies, such as the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Agrarian Reform, Trade and Industry, Budget and Management, and National Economic and Development Authority.
Dr. Elena E. Pernia, a professor of communication and dean of UP Diliman’s College of Mass Communication, described Aghambayan as knowledge festival of DOST-funded researches in UP. It will be presented to the public, to specific sectors in the private industry as well as to lead government agencies.
She said in an interview with the BusinessMirror that R&D outputs directly benefit Filipinos because what will be shown in the festival are not just concepts but genuine products.
“So, we will see that LiDAR already has an application, newborn screening is already being used and has been in use for several years, and then the PECM is already being fed to chickens, pigs, livestock and even to fishes,” Pernia emphasized.
The UPCM dean added that more of the genuine R&D products which are now actual technologies out of DOST and UP will be showcased at Aghambayan.
“Expect more of these on June 20, more researches that directly benefit the people, more focused on products, even those that are patented,” she said.
Another feature of the festival, Pernia said, will be the signing of memorandum of agreement to demonstrate the outputs are already being adopted by private and government sectors.