Health care workers in the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) can now connect with their patients without physically being present in COVID wards, thanks to telepresence devices that “limit exposure, conserve personal protective equipment (PPE), and provide clear communication with a friendly face.

These telepresence devices not only help nurses and doctors, anxious and lonely patients isolated from their families and moral support system can also remotely communicate with their loved ones during their fight to survive the disease.

technology solution was developed by the University of the Philippines Manila – College of Medicine Surgical Innovation and Biotechnology Laboratory or UPM-CM SIBOL COVID Task Force composed of collaborating clinicians from UP Manila and engineers, scientists, and artists from UP Diliman funded by the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD).

COVID-19 is projected to require a massive inventory of medical supplies. This was the impetus for us to convene the SIBOL COVID Task Force,” according to Dr. Edward Wang, lead of the SIBOL team. The Task Force, recently formed to support the fight against coronavirus pandemic,  is composed of three teams working on Disinfection, PPE, and Telemonitoring.

SIBOL, a Filipino term for germination, is an existing program of DOST-PCHRD which originally aims to “use locally sourced material and technology to produce much needed surgical and medical devices in the country” (Wang, 2020).

The telepresence device is the first SIBOL product deployed by the team at PGH after two weeks of collaboration. “Inspired by triage booths initially set-up to screen ambulatory patients, the team led by Dr. Nathaniel Orillaza Jr. (Orthopedics), Dr. Pros Naval (Computer Science), and Dr. Luis Sison and Dr. Roel Ocampo (Electronics & Electrical Engineering Institute) assembled devices which allowed health care workers to connect to patients remotely,” said Dr. Wang.

The telepresence devices are “computers programmed to automatically answer calls from authorized accounts using available teleconferencing and remote-control applications, thus minimizing contamination and allowing effortless access even by patients with no technological know-how.”  Materials used for initial deployment were sponsored by Xavier School Class of 1975 while wooden stands were designed, manufactured, and subsidized by Projektzulu Co.  The team also acknowledges the Department of Orthopedics for providing headquarters and logistical support for this SIBOL Telemonitoring project.


As the Philippines hopes to transition from the COVID-19-induced community quarantine to the new normal, it is imperative that targeted mass testing is in place in order to contain further spread of the SARS-CoV2 virus. While national and local efforts to source diagnostic kits have been successful, there is an imminent testing bottleneck in the country due to the lack of capable qPCR instruments on which to run these specialized kits.

Recognizing this problem, the Department of Science and Technology through the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) has signified support to the “Accelerated development of a cost-efficient microPCR (miPCR) and lateral flow diagnostic (LFD) system to enable expanded near-point-of-care testing for COVID-19” or the AMPLiFieD System to be developed by a multi-disciplinary team of biologists, clinicians and engineers led by Dr. Jeremie de Guzman, Dr. Keith Moore, and Mr. Ricardo Jose S. Guerrero, PhD Cand from the Ateneo Research Institute for Science and Engineering (ARISE).

The AMPLiFieD system will combine the outputs of two newly-initiated DOST-PCHRD supported projects  ---the miPCR Project, a microfluidic PCR device for portable DNA/RNA amplification and the ADDS Project, an amplified DNA detection system based on low-cost lateral flow diagnostic (LFD) strips to selectively detect the viral nucleic acids that are the output of the miPCR device.

Once the team has fabricated the proof of concept devices, further validation and verification of these devices will be conducted to ensure reliability and robustness. If successful, AMPLiFieD could provide a functional alternative to commercial qPCR instruments at a significantly lower cost and a much smaller size. The availability of this alternative system can also potentially lead to creating more cost-effective, more distributed testing laboratories and provide the much-needed testing infrastructure for more responsive testing and tracing of suspected COVID-19 cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO) cites the Philippines as a model for low- to middle-income countries with a comprehensive national strategy for health research based on the Health Evidence Network (HEN) report, “What is the evidence on policies, interventions and tools for establishing and/or strengthening national health research systems and their effectiveness?” which elaborates the importance of collaborative and cross-cutting health research strategies as key in the achievement of national health goals.

Emphasizing the challenge in building and sustaining the growth of a continuously evolving health research landscape, the HEN report identifies the Philippines as among the countries which made significant progress in line with the institutionalization of the Philippine National Health Research System (PNHRS) through the Republic Act 10532 in 2013.

Defining and articulating a vision for the NHRS is important in providing an overall direction and purpose for the activities involved in establishing and strengthening the system,” the report asserts. Referring to the country’s AmBisyon Natin 2040, the report explained that the “22-year vision for the nation provided a framework within which to develop a long-term vision for the country’s health research.”

The report also highlights the support given to research projects aligned with the National Unified Health Research Agenda (NUHRA) and the accreditation of research ethics committees (RECs). In 2016, the report notes that the country was able to address 45 of the 56 priority topics in health. This includes the country’s focus on innovation, particularly with its Tuklas Lunas program which leverages on the country’s biodiversity. On accreditation of RECs, through the Philippine Health Research Ethics Board (PHREB), the country was able to accredit a total of 48 RECs in 2016. To date, there are 95 accredited RECs across all regions in the country.

Collaborative efforts and partnerships were also identified as key in achieving the country's health goals. The report illustrates the partnership between the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) and the United States National Institutes of Health to create a platform for a coordinated approach to tuberculosis research, and with the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council for infectious disease projects in institutions in both countries.

Recognizing that “the way in which health research evidence is produced can increase the chance that it will be used in the health system,” the report also underscores the country’s efforts to advance health research publication in line with its partnership with the Asia Pacific Association of Medical Editors (APAME). In collaboration with the APAME, DOST-PCHRD holds biannual medical writing workshops to strengthen the publishing capacity of health researchers in the country.

"A health research strategy plays a key role in creating an overall system that is stronger because it combines diverse interventions related to specific functions," the report concludes.

The PNHRS, through its implementing institutions --- Department of Health (DOH), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM), is a national framework and convergent strategy that aims to promote cooperation and integration of all health research efforts in the country to ensure that research contributes to evidence-informed health policies and actions.

Written by: Jwynne Gwyneth Macan
Contributor: Christine Jane Gonzalez

To accelerate COVID-19 mass testing in the Philippines while protecting frontline healthcare workers during specimen collection, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) delivered and installed 132 specimen collection booths (SCBs) to 89 DOH-identified hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country.

As of May 23, the booths were successfully distributed to nine cities in NCR and 37 provinces in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Fabrication of the SCBs was facilitated since April by Mr. Augusto Martinez III and his team at the Futuristic Aviation and Maritime Enterprise (FAME) Inc. 

Inspired by the telephone booth-style swab collection facilities in other Asian countries, the SCB is equipped with a transparent front window, ventilation, and caster wheels for easier mobility. For added safety and protection, it also comes with pressure and infrared temperature sensors which can be used for remote monitoring of the patient and separate disinfection agents inside and outside the swab booth.

Each booth contains two holes at the front panel which allows the healthcare worker, in proper PPE, to collect the patient’s samples. Five minutes is then allotted to disinfect the booth before receiving the next patient. 

Designed to reduce the exposure of frontline health workers to suspected COVID-19 patients, the fabrication and distribution of SCBs were sponsored by DOST-attached agencies, Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD) and Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD). The Philippine Coast Guard provided assistance in the delivery of some of the units to Visayas and Mindanao.

The recipients of SCBs also received instructional materials, videos, and document manuals on how to install and use the booths. The design was also made available publicly for free and disseminated through the DOST Regional Offices, in case other entities would like to fabricate their own booths.

The public can access the design through this link:
For those inquiring about COVID-19-related research, please be informed of the following guidelines:

  1. All letters of requests or inquiries on researches are processed by the PCHRD Help Desk or the concerned division within the council.
  2. Senders of requests for assistance will be informed of the status of their request by the concerned PCHRD division or focal person (usually a project manager assigned).
  3. For requests for research assistance, the following rules will apply:
    1. Only people employed or affiliated with recognized research institutions whether public or private may qualify for financial support. Free standing individuals with no institutional affiliation are not qualified.
    2. Free standing individuals with no institutional affiliation should engage recognized research institutions or groups, whether public or private to conduct the research for them. In this case, the said research may then qualify for possible funding support.
    3. Research on proprietary products cannot be funded using public funds. The developer should seek support from other sources other than public funds.
    4. Only products and services for public good with no proprietary claims or ownership, whether current or pending will be provided public funds.
    5. Non- financial assistance in the form of advice or referral to recognized research groups or possible funding sources may be provided to all requesting entities. These, however, should not be construed or interpreted as an endorsement by the council.
    6. When qualified, all requests with specific research proposals will be processed and evaluated using the following steps:
      1. Application documents submitted online will be reviewed by the council for completeness,and alignment of the research proposal to the National Unified Health Research Agenda(NUHRA) and the Harmonized National R and D Agenda (HNRDA) for Health and duplication. Topics other than the priority areas may be considered when topics are considered pressing or urgent to address national emergencies or exigencies.
      2. If the proposal is aligned to the HNRDA/NUHRA, the Proponent will then be informed if the documents received are complete or if any other required documents should be submitted. Proponents whose proposal do not align with the HNRDA/NUHRA and /or with duplication will be notified that their proposal will not qualify for the research grant.
      3. Once the research proposal and the required documents are assessed to be complete,the project is sent for technical evaluation by an external technical panel composed of experts on the appropriate field or area.
      4. Ethical review of the proposal by an accredited Ethics Review Board (ERB) will also bedone (if with human participation or will utilize samples from humans, see No. 12).
      5. Recommendations of the external technical panel will be submitted to the council.
      6. The results of the said evaluation will then be forwarded to the proponent to address.
      7. Only minor revisions will be allowed for the proponent. Major revisions will not be entertained, and the proponent will be advised to either consider another proposal or resubmit the proposal.
      8. The final proposal, with the minor revisions, will then be re-submitted by the proponent.and will be reviewed if recommended revisions were addressed. The financial aspects of the proposal will also be reviewed to finalize the recommended budgetary requirements considering the revised proposal.
      9. The proponent may be advised by the council to present to the PCHRD Governing Council when needed to secure final approval.
      10. After final approval, the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) will be executed between PCHRD and the proponent.
      11. For research involving human participants, no funds will be released until the proponent shows proof of approval of the study by a recognized ethics review board. The ethics approval is a requirement for proposals involving human participants.

Reference Links:

Guidelines for the Grants-in-Aid Program of Department of Science and Technology and its Agencies

Harmonized National R&D Agenda 2017-2022

National Unified Health Research Agenda 2017-2022