HEALTH research in the Philippines has crossed over from mostly intellectual work into practical and expanding applications.
In recent years, Filipinos are also embracing locally developed health products.
Thanks to a favorable research environment, Filipino health scientists and researchers trained here and abroad are turning out health products with increasing local content – which brings the spotlight to the critical role that health research plays in making Filipino lives better.
Health-related studies had a slow start at the turn of the 20tth century. But medical practitioners now have more insightful appreciation of prevalent diseases; lawmakers and decision makers can design responsive policies; health care providers can perform better services; and the health industry is able to develop appropriate and less expensive technologies for diagnostics and treatment.
There are local breakthroughs and innovations in the area of management and diagnostics, nutrition, pharmaceutical research and development, biomedical devices and information systems, among others.
“Clinicians need to be continually updated on the latest advances and trends in the diagnosis and management of diseases,” says Dr. Jaime Montoya, executive director of the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD).
He points to the rapid expansion of research-generated health knowledge. “What you know now or what is thought to be ‘right’ at this time may not remain so in the following years,” he says.
“Clinicians need to use research-based medicine, which means that medical practice should be based on evidence generated by excellent scientific research,” says Montoya, a medical doctor specializing in infectious diseases.
Modern health research in the country traces its roots to 1887 when Spanish colonial authorities established the first laboratory for chemical and bacteriological studies.
However, research activities did not take off steadily for several reasons.
During the American occupation, health research became a vital program in efforts to solve the puzzle of American servicemen dying of “exotic and strange tropical diseases.”
In 1899, the US government sent the Johns Hopkins Hospital Commission, headed by Dr. Simon Flexner and Dr. Lewellys Barker, which would become the pioneers of health research in the country.
Initial studies focused on tropical diseases such as smallpox, dysentery, cholera, beriberi and tuberculosis.
Government support to health research gained momentum upon the establishment of three seminal institutions—the Bureau of Government Laboratories (1901), a medical school (1905) and the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) established in 1910.
Research then was high on the colonial government’s list and funding for researches on tropical diseases was generous. But Filipino physicians were allowed to assume substantial roles in health research only around 1914.
The medical school built in 1905 came to be known as the University of the Philippines College of Medicine (PGH), now considered the elite medical training facility in the country.
PGH continues to cater to a huge number of indigent patients to this day, while the Bureau of Government Laboratories is now known as the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
Currently, PCHRD serves as the coordinating body of all health-related scientific efforts in the country. Health R&D activities in the country spans the biomedical, socio-cultural, behavioral and health delivery concerns.
PCHRD’s previous direction for health research was driven mainly by government priorities.
In the 1980s to early 1990s, health research took a market-oriented approach. Health-related projects and programs were then evaluated in terms of returns on investment to society.
Later, health research focused on fields where the Philippines would have comparative advantages, such as in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals because of the country’s rich biodiversity resources.
Priority studies now include drugs, reagents, vaccines, biomedical devices, and nutritional products. –Framelia V. Anonas, Special To The Manila Times