TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - The COVID-19 pandemic, which first emerged in China in late 2019 and then spread rapidly across the globe, has caught many countries unprepared, sparking an unprecedented crisis across the world.
Lack of planning and preparation in dealing with the crisis has led to a loss of lives, including those of doctors and nurses fighting at the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle, often with inadequate personal protection due to shortage of critical medical and safety equipment, including masks, which are easy to produce and cheap in cost.
As of July 4, 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases worldwide has reached 11,219,696, with 6,363,696 recoveries and 529,601 deaths.
In Indonesia, 62,142 people have been infected with the virus so far, with the number of patients recovering from the virus climbing to 28,219 and the death toll mounting to 3,089.
As per data provided on May 6, 2020 by the Task Force for the Acceleration of COVID-19 Response, 55 medical workers — 38 doctors and 12 nurses — have succumbed to the infection in Indonesia.
In East Java, 86 doctors and 146 nurses have been exposed to COVID-19, said Dr. Sutrisno, chairman of the province’s Indonesian Medical Association (IDI). Thirteen doctors and 11 nurses have succumbed to the disease, he added.
In South Sulawesi, Prof. Dr Syafri Kamsul Arif, spokesperson for the local COVID-19 response task force, said 70 health workers have contracted the virus, of whom, 60 percent have made a full recovery.
Medical workers are at the vanguard in the war against COVID-19, and therefore, they need to be well-equipped and protected.
President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has instructed his aides to take requisite measures to prevent further deaths of medical workers from COVID-19.
The efforts include ensuring the availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical workers handling COVID-19 patients.
Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto has imposed relaxation on export and import regulations on health equipment and PPEs and other medical supplies, as part of efforts to solve the problem of their scarcity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But, that can be no more than a stopgap measure. In the long run, the nation must be able to produce medical supplies and be self-reliant in the health sector.
President Jokowi has highlighted several problems faced by the country at present, and which will continue to weigh heavy over the next several years if they are not resolved immediately.
"As an example of what is happening in the health sector, [let’s take a look at] the pharmaceutical industry [which] is still importing raw materials, with 95 percent still being imported," the President pointed out.
Hence, the government has sponsored several prominent universities, including the University of Indonesia (UI) and the University of Airlangga (Unair), to conduct research and innovation projects focused on prevention, filtering and diagnosis; medical equipment and supporting devices; medicines and therapies; and, social humanities.
According to the Indonesian Research and Technology Ministry, it has accrued funds to the tune of almost Rp200 billion for financing research on developing a vaccine, medicines, and other innovative products to support Indonesia's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We believe that the funds we have collected are sufficient to finance research and innovation efforts up to the prototype stage," Research and Technology Minister Bambang P. S. Brodjonegoro noted on May 27, 2020.
The ministry has also allotted early-stage funding of Rp5 billion to support research for COVID-19 vaccine development in the country.
In addition, Minister of Industry, Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita, has said his ministry is pushing for the development of the country’s industrial sector, especially businesses related to the health sector, in collaboration with several parties, including universities.
"This is the directive of the President, [and] of course we, as industry coaches, can continue to encourage the development and competitiveness of the pharmaceutical and medical devices sector," the minister said recently.
For that reason, the Ministry of Industry is focusing on improving the performance of industries that still enjoy a high demand in the market in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, including industries producing PPEs, medical devices and ethanol, masks and gloves, pharmaceuticals, and phytopharmaca (herbal medicines), as well as the food and beverage industry.
He noted that in the first quarter of 2020, the chemical, pharmaceutical, and traditional medicine industries grew the most at 5.59 percent.
This positive performance was achieved amid the COVID-19 pandemic as the industry still recorded a high demand in the market, he explained.
Furthermore, the pharmaceutical and medical device industries are included in the Ministry of Industry's Making Indonesia 4.0 Program that targets to expedite the application of Industry 4.0 in the manufacturing sector.
"Making Indonesia 4.0 is a strategy towards Industry 4.0 through the transformation of digital manufacturing. The aim is to increase productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness of national industries," Kartasasmita said on June 21, 2020.
Making Indonesia 4.0 is a roadmap to expedite the development of globally competitive industrial sectors. The program aims to secure Indonesia a rank among the top 10 countries with the largest economies in the world by 2030.
The Making Indonesia 4.0 program is also expected to help boost the country's net exports by 10 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), double the productivity against costs, and step up spending on research and development by 2 percent of the GDP.
"The inclusion of the medical device and pharmaceutical industries in the priority development of Making Indonesia 4.0 is one of the efforts of the Ministry of Industry to immediately realize a self-reliant Indonesia in the health sector," the industry minister stated.
Kartasasmita highlighted the significance of making Indonesia's self-reliant in the medical equipment and pharmaceutical industries, especially during health emergency scenarios, as seen today.
The medical equipment and pharmaceutical industries have come under the high-demand category amid the COVID-19 pandemic when other sectors are bearing a major brunt.
Furthermore, self-reliance in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries is projected to contribute to the program of curtailing imports by up to 35 percent by the end of 2022.
"Innovation and application of Industry 4.0 in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries can increase productivity," he noted.
To this end, the Ministry of Industry has been working to boost the competitiveness of medical device and pharmaceutical industries by encouraging the introduction of digital technology.