Jakarta. Indonesia's Research and Technology Ministry has formed a consortium of local research institutions and universities to work on a Covid-19mitigation programthat will include identifying compounds that can inhibit the spread of coronavirus,developing a vaccine for the virus and implementingartificial intelligence for faster diagnosis of the disease that has already killed more than 24,000 people around the world.
The consortium will provide assistance forthe government's Covid-19 Task Force, especially in testing for the SARS-Cov-2 virus, Research and Technology MinisterBambang Brodjonegoro said.
"The consortium will focus onresearch, development, assessmentand implementation of various aspects inCovid-19 mitigation,"Bambang said on Thursday duringa virtual press conference.
The consortium is partly made up ofnon-ministerial government agencies includingIndonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT), Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan), Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan)and Eijkman Molecular Biology Institute (LBM Eijkman).
It also includes universitiessuch asBandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), University of Indonesia (UI), Airlangga University and Gajah Mada University (UGM).
Bambang said the ministry has reallocated money from its own budget to fundthe consortium.
"Forthisfirst stage, we've reallocated Rp 20 billion ($1.2 million)from thebusiness trip budget,"he said.
Earlier, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the government would divert Rp 40 trillion from itstravel budget for Covid-19 mitigation.
The pandemic has infected 893 people in Indonesia and killed78, with only 35 recoveries so far.
The Research and Technology Minister said the consortium officially called the Covid-19 Consortium has been researching the possibility that consumption ofred guava might boost the body'simmune systemand preventCovid-19 transmission.
It has also beendeveloping a disinfectionchamber prototype.
"We've also been designingpersonal protective equipmentand makinghand sanitizers,"Bambang said.
The head of IPB's Tropical Biopharmaca Study Center, Irmanida Batubara, said researchers from IPBand the University of Indonesia have found that red guava and honey contain a flavonoid compound that could potentially be developed into anantivirus for Covid-19.
"The flavonoid compound might be able tostopthe virus from replicating orobstructthe virusfrom attaching itself tothe human body's protein receptor,"she said.
Irmanida said the researchers will testthe effects of consumingred guava juice, honey andguava leaf extracts.
Meanwhile, LIPI head Laksana Tri Handoko said his institution is collaborating withITB to create an ozone-based disinfectionchamber.
"We've developed an ozone-based disinfectionchamber that's safer for the human skin and eco-friendly. Other producers will be able to use the technology, too,"he said.
One of the consortium's mid-term plans, Bambang said, is to study imported Covid-19 testing kits with a view to produce them domestically. The study is led by the BPPT.
BPPT headHammam Rizasaid the consortium will also develop a non-polymerase chain reaction(PCR) test for Covid-19, usinga dipstick and a microchip, and a PCR diagnostic test that can detect thevirus' latest mutations.
He said the consortium will also research the use ofartificial intelligence inCovid-19 mitigation efforts.
"Artificial intelligence can be used to produceCT scans and X-rays from suspect Covid-19 patientsthat will help doctors see if someone has beeninfected by the virus or not. The process will involvemachine learning and deep learning,"he said.
In the long term,the consortium wantsto develop aCovid-19 vaccine, which it said wouldtake at least 12 months.
LBM Eijkman chairmanAmin Soebandriosaid the vaccine would be designed toprotect people from further coronavirus infectionssince Indonesia has already experienced three pandemics involvingdifferent strains of the coronavirus:MERS-Cov, SARS-Covand now the SARS-Cov-2.
"The vaccine will stimulateantibodiesthat will protect us fromthe virus. Even if someone still getsinfected by the virus, the effects would not be severe. We hope thevaccine will workfor other coronaviruses too,"he said.
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