By Safiera Nadya
Like the rest of the world, Indonesian’s are battling the COVID-19 crisis. As we learn to adapt and come to terms with the unprecedented upheaval caused by this novel virus, it has underlined the importance of those working on the front line. Now more than ever we value the doctors and nurses, cleaners and delivery drivers – and of course, researchers and scientists – who are leading the global response.
Under Newton Fund, researchers in Indonesia and the UK get to work together on solving global challenges, such as protecting our coastal communities from extreme weather events and the effects of climate change, and leading the way in improving tuberculosis diagnostics. Now, some of the incredible individuals in our Newton Fund network are using their knowledge and expertise to support our response to the pandemic.
Dr Tedjo Sasmono is a Senior Research Fellow at Eijkman Institute and one of the many experts around the world working hard to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. He is also one of Indonesia’s advisors in convalescence plasma therapy, which uses the plasma of recovered COVID-19 patients to treat others who have developed the disease.
Before coronavirus turned the world upside-down, Dr Sasmono’s work focused on insect-spread infectious diseases, which are associated with serious morbidity and mortality in countries around the world and have limited treatment options. His Newton funded collaboration with UK partners resulted in a new quick and inexpensive test to identify and sequence the genomes of dengue and chikungunya virus, to help countries rapidly track and identify new outbreaks. As a result of this impact the project was shortlisted for the 2019 Newton Prize.
"I really benefited from working with University of Cambridge on my Newton Fund project and I hope that in the future there will be a collaboration between UK and Indonesia to further COVID-19 vaccine development" Dr Tedjo Sasmono
The project was funded as part of a joint call with Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP), Indonesian Science Fund (DIPI) and the UK's Medical Research Council.
Dr Anna Rozaliyani, based in University of Indonesia’s Parasitology Department, was one of the many medical experts who volunteered to help treat Covid-19 patients at the Athletes Village in Jakarta. Originally built to house athletes participating in the 2018 Asian Games, the Village has been transformed into an emergency hospital to treat people with coronavirus.
Through the Newton Fund, Dr Rozaliyani is working alongside Dr Chris Kosmidis from the University of Manchester on chronic pulmonary aspergillosis – a form of lung disease with similar features to TB, and an increasingly recognised global health problem. Their project aims to prove a point-of-care blood test which can be performed in clinic, removing the need to send samples to a laboratory and making the disease much easier and cheaper to diagnose.
The work was funded through a joint call with Indonesia's Ministry of Research and Technology and the UK's Medical Research Council.
Dr Maisuri Chalid is the Director for training and education at University of Hasanuddin Hospital in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi. As the first few cases of COVID-19 were identified in Makassar, Dr Chalid was one of the doctors put in charge of caring for pregnant COVID-19 patients.
As well as treating patients, Dr Chalid is doing crucial work to raise awareness about the virus and the importance of social distancing to citizens of Makassar. Early on in the crisis she saw that the public were reluctant to report suspected cases and gathered in large crowds. Knowing how important it is to educate people, she set up a widely-watched Instagram live talk with a few of her colleagues.
Dr Chalid’s Newton Fund work in collaboration with her UK partner, Dr Brian Thomson, seeks to identify the factors involved in mother-to-child transmission of Hepatitis B, which is the most common route of infection in the Asia Pacific region. Dr Chalid has been able to apply the methods used in her Newton Fund project on virus mutation of Hepatitis B to study COVID-19’s mutation.
The research was funded as part of a joint call with Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education (LPDP), Indonesian Science Fund (DIPI) and the UK's Medical Research Council.
These three individuals are just a few out of many more who are putting themselves on the front line to help those affected by COVID-19. It reminds us all just how important our medical workers, scientists and researchers are, and here in Indonesia we are proud of our international partnerships that support this work:
"Indonesia is committed to supporting our valued researchers and scientists through programmes like Newton Fund, which allow scientists in the UK and Indonesia to combine their expertise and face global challenges such as the Covid-19 crisis together. It is a great example of what can be achieved through international cooperation" Professor Ocky Karna Radjasa, Director of Research and Community Service at Indonesia’s Research and Technology Ministry
In the UK, British citizens have been recognising health workers with a nation-wide "Clap for Carers" to say thank you. We join you here in Indonesia by saying "Terima Kasih Para Pejuang COVID-19 Indonesia": thank you COVID-19 fighters.
Safiera Nadya is Research and Innovation Programme Officer for the Newton Fund in Indonesia, based at the British Embassy Jakarta.