Jakarta. Indonesia's Research and Technology Ministry has formed a consortium of local research institutions and universities to work on a Covid-19 mitigation program that will include identifying compounds that can inhibit the spread of coronavirus, developing a vaccine for the virus and implementing artificial intelligence for faster diagnosis of the disease that has already killed more than 24,000 people around the world.
The consortium will provide assistance for the government's Covid-19 Task Force, especially in testing for the SARS-Cov-2 virus, Research and Technology Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said.
"The consortium will focus on research, development, assessment and implementation of various aspects in Covid-19 mitigation," Bambang said on Thursday during a virtual press conference.
The consortium is partly made up of non-ministerial government agencies including Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT), Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan), Institute of Aeronautics and Space (Lapan) and Eijkman Molecular Biology Institute (LBM Eijkman).
It also includes universities such as Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB), Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), University of Indonesia (UI), Airlangga University and Gajah Mada University (UGM).
Bambang said the ministry has reallocated money from its own budget to fund the consortium.
"For this first stage, we've reallocated Rp 20 billion ($1.2 million) from the business trip budget," he said.
Earlier, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the government would divert Rp 40 trillion from its travel budget for Covid-19 mitigation.
The pandemic has infected 893 people in Indonesia and killed 78, with only 35 recoveries so far.
The Research and Technology Minister said the consortium – officially called the Covid-19 Consortium – has been researching the possibility that consumption of red guava might boost the body's immune system and prevent Covid-19 transmission.
It has also been developing a disinfection chamber prototype.
"We've also been designing personal protective equipment and making hand sanitizers," Bambang said.
The head of IPB's Tropical Biopharmaca Study Center, Irmanida Batubara, said researchers from IPB and the University of Indonesia have found that red guava and honey contain a flavonoid compound that could potentially be developed into an antivirus for Covid-19.
"The flavonoid compound might be able to stop the virus from replicating or obstruct the virus from attaching itself to the human body's protein receptor," she said.
Irmanida said the researchers will test the effects of consuming red guava juice, honey and guava leaf extracts.
Meanwhile, LIPI head Laksana Tri Handoko said his institution is collaborating with ITB to create an ozone-based disinfection chamber.
"We've developed an ozone-based disinfection chamber that's safer for the human skin and eco-friendly. Other producers will be able to use the technology, too," he said.
One of the consortium's mid-term plans, Bambang said, is to study imported Covid-19 testing kits with a view to produce them domestically. The study is led by the BPPT.
BPPT head Hammam Riza said the consortium will also develop a non-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for Covid-19, using a dipstick and a microchip, and a PCR diagnostic test that can detect the virus' latest mutations.
He said the consortium will also research the use of artificial intelligence in Covid-19 mitigation efforts.
"Artificial intelligence can be used to produce CT scans and X-rays from suspect Covid-19 patients that will help doctors see if someone has been infected by the virus or not. The process will involve machine learning and deep learning," he said.
In the long term, the consortium wants to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, which it said would take at least 12 months.
LBM Eijkman chairman Amin Soebandrio said the vaccine would be designed to protect people from further coronavirus infections since Indonesia has already experienced three pandemics involving different strains of the coronavirus: MERS-Cov, SARS-Cov and now the SARS-Cov-2.
"The vaccine will stimulate antibodies that will protect us from the virus. Even if someone still gets infected by the virus, the effects would not be severe. We hope the vaccine will work for other coronaviruses too," he said.