Filipino ingenuity shines in local health research

Published by rudy Date posted on April 19, 2009

FILIPINO health researchers have produced breakthroughs that contribute new knowledge, techniques, preventive strategies and pharmaceuticals.

All of which reinforce the health industry’s fight against diseases.

Two community-based researches— funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)— contributed significantly to the formulation of a nationwide program to control acute respiratory infection.

Acute respiratory infection kills nearly 10 out of 1,000 Filipinos, many are children four years old and below.

Researches that can help control the disease and reduce mortality are very important. This is why the researches made by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine’s (RITM) on the early recognition and appropriate case management of diseases figured prominently in the formulation of the nationwide control program.

The “Liver Study Group” of the University of the Philippines (UP)-Manila, for example, made groundbreaking studies on Hepatitis B, a major health problem that affects about one in every 10 Filipino children.

The group developed Hepa-B detection kits that identify infections quickly and shorten the vaccination regimen, which makes treatment more affordable and minimizes compliance problems.

Using the kits in seven out of 10 newborns would translate to P312 million in savings, according to the Liver Study Group.

Moreover, the group’s multidisciplinary studies on liver cancer helped in including Hepa-B vaccination in the government’s Expanded Program on Immunization for Infants.

Another detection kit developed by local researchers include UP-Philippine General Hospital’s (PGH) antibiotic sensitivity disc used in determining a patient’s susceptibility and resistance to certain antibiotics. The kit costs almost half the commonly used imported brands.

Still another breakthrough is RITM’s urine dipstick that detects schistosomiasis, or snail fever.

The schistosomiasis detection kit came out of RITM’s previous research involving humans and even animals such as dogs, cats, pigs, water buffaloes and rats because of findings that these have a role in spreading the disease.

The Rapid Shallow Breathing Index developed by the UP-PGH is a clinical scoring system that checks a patient’s oxygen, blood pressure, absence or presence of fever, heart stability and spontaneous breathing effort.

This device has the equivalent capability of the conventional and more expensive equipment commonly used to predict the success of taking the ventilator off a patient.

What began as a research project funded by the DOST-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) has evolved into the National Comprehensive Newborn Screening System.

The research was aimed at determining the local incidence of congenital diseases, such as hypothyroidism, adrenal hyperplasia, phentlketonuria, galactosemia and homocystinuria.

Pediatricians and obstetricians from 24 hospitals in Metro Manila worked together to come up with the data that led to the recognition of the positive national impact of newborn screening.

In nutrition-related research, DOST’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) is the country’s leading agency which regularly conducts health and nutrition status surveys nationally.

It develops projects and recommendations based on findings that need countermeasures such as food fortification, feeding, development of nutritious and economical recipes, development of functional foods and even diet counseling.

Other ongoing researches are on virgin coconut oil (determination of trans fatty acids, shelf-life, effect of moisture content, applications in weight management, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties, etc).

Still on coconut, FNRI and Philippine Coconut Authority researchers also found that the coconut’s dietary fibers can effectively decrease glycemic index and can reduce serum total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

For the past three decades, Filipino medical scientists were able to screen 102 local medicinal plants and produced a list of 80 plants scientifically validated to be safe and effective as treatment for various ailments.

This work became the basis for the country’s most extensive integrated health research and development efforts concerning herbal medicine.

UP Manila’s Pharmacology Department led this effort in collaboration with other pioneer scientists under the National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants.

Herbal tablets, capsules, syrups and creams are now available in local pharmacies and drug stores, proving that the research efforts on indigenous herbal plants paid off.

Locally developed devices effectively reduce the cost of treatment and facilitates service since these are cheaper and more accessible.

Using locally available tools, researchers from UP and the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) developed a cerebrospinal shunt made of medical-grade siliconized plastic tubing and steel.

Implanted in the skull, the shunt is used to treat hydrocephalic infants. Brain surgeons in UP-PGH and UST now use the shunt.

Meanwhile, a PGH-designed locally fabricated cataract surgical set significantly reduced the number of instruments from the usual 10-112 pieces to just six—muscle hook, cautery tip, tenotomy scissors, iris scissors, utility forceps, and fixation forceps.

Aside from its affordability, the set is also smaller in size and suited for small Asian hands.

Reducing diagnostic costs was also the aim of UST medical scientists who developed the hemoglobinometer kit that allows direct reading of the concentrations of several important components in the blood, leading to better medical diagnosis.

Aside from hemoglobin, the kit measures the presence of glucose, cholesterol and uric acid in the blood.

UST researchers also developed an iodine measurement kit that can be used even outside laboratory settings. This kit responds to the ASIN Law of 1996 that aims to eliminate iodine deficiency in the country.

The DOST-PCHRD also installed a Universal Testing Machine at the UP-PGH to facilitate the development of local prototypes of biomedical devices and assess their full potential.

Various researches have also been undertaken concerning the health and well-being of workers in their workplaces, including Cordillera farmers, women in the semiconductor industries, and physical conditions and occupational safety measures in local plastics manufacturing companies. –Manila Times

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