Amid the disconcerting wait for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines to reach Philippine soil, a consumer advocacy group rued what it called the “lack of science culture” among the leaders in government.
Had it been the other way around, Filipinos could be among those producing the sought-after vaccine, Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Mamamayan (AGHAM) President Angelo Palmones said.
“President Marcos started the biotech program in the Philippines with the National Biotech Center in UPLB (University of the Philippines Los Baños). Succeeding presidents did not consider biotechnology as a primary research program for food security and health,” Palmones noted.
“Today, all vaccines are produced by biotech labs and biotech experts. The Philippines has just started funding a virology center.True, Philippine bio-diversity remains untapped because of the lack of science culture among Filipinos, especially our political leaders. Do we have scientists in the Senate or House of Representatives?” he asked.
The Philippines, which has an estimated population of 110 million people, was supposed to receive its first batch of the vaccines from aboard this month. Local authorities have since said there’s a delay and that the cause was the worldwide shortage of the vaccine.
Palmones underscored that Filipinos aren’t lacking in skill and knowhow when it comes to medical breakthroughs. He cited the story behind antibiotic Erythromycin as an example.
“Erythromycin is an antibiotic developed by a Pinoy scientist from a soil in Iloilo but licensed to an American pharmaceutical company–Eli Lilly–because they funded the research,” he said.
“So, unless government considers R&D (research and development) as a priority program for national progress, we’ll just continue importing goods, food and medicine–including vaccines!” the AGHAM president noted.
It was Filipino physician, Dr. Abelardo B. Aguilar who made the local discovery of a bacteria that ultimately led to the development of Erythromycin. Sadly, Aguilar passed away in 1993 without receiving due recognition and compensation for his important discovery.