Low investment in research and development (R&D) remains a challenge in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Indonesia, for instance, spends less than 0.1% of its GDP on R&D.
A new grant scheme, the Indonesian Science Fund (ISF), was launched earlier this year to encourage more research in priority areas such as biotechnology. The ISF has at its disposal almost 80 billion IDR (about 60 million USD) to fund around 200 multi-year research grants. The key message of this initiative is clear: good research is key to successful development of useful applications and inventions that can contribute to economic development.
Is, however, such a generous boost to research funding enough, on its own, to generate a step-change in the standard of science in Indonesia or other LMICs? The quality of research is determined not just by how much money is spent, but by what and how research is done. Ensuring the right scientific research systems and adequate research support infrastructure are in place is vital if funds are to be used efficiently and effectively to support and drive economic growth, and make a contribution to improving people’s standard of living
Empowering early career researchers
To this end, PILAR Research and Education was founded to facilitate high-impact research opportunities, provide research resources, advocate improvements in research capabilities and infrastructure, and exchange knowledge and skills between early career researchers in the Philippines, Indonesia, the UK, and the wider research community. The two countries were chosen given the ties of PILAR’s co-founders with the Philippines and Indonesia. With early career professionals as the driver, we want biomedical and health research and development in the Philippines and Indonesia to advance – quickly, with a view to make a meaningful and beneficial impact on interventions and policy.
A research tool for population studies
One of our initiatives – in its conceptual stages so far – involves designing, executing, and maintaining – in partnership with collaborators in Indonesia and the Philippines – a database for metadata of population studies, which can inform researchers from all round the world on ongoing studies. This would be an Indonesian and Philippine resource provided to the wider research community in the same way, to take two examples, Japan hosts and runs the Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) and the US hosts and runs the MEDLINE database of publications. This would be a first for such a platform in South East Asia, and could help expedite progress in epidemiology research in the region.
Good-quality research uses and, probably, needs such sustainable resources. Research comprising interdisciplinary teams of statisticians and epidemiologists working alongside clinicians is a key component of modern scientific research and the provision of resources facilitate such interdisciplinary R&D.
Epidemiological research has led to discoveries that have been crucial to the immediate health and wellbeing of a population, from John Snow’s detailed studies in London in the 1850s showing cholera to be a waterborne disease, to the painstaking multidisciplinary work of Jonas Salk and his team in the US that eventually led to development of a vaccine for polio. If countries like Indonesia are to make comparable contributions to science and the health and well-being of populations, then consideration must be given not only to how much funding is made available to R&D but also how best to do research.
To find out more about us and how you can take part in our initiative, visit www.pilar.org.uk.
Dr. Wahyu Wulaningsih