UP Manila as a Research University
For an academic institution, research serves as the lifeline for the generation, dissemination, and application of knowledge, innovations and technologies that are meant to benefit society and the people.
As a health university, UP Manila regards research as a hallmark through which the University serves as a major contributor to national health goals. The vision-mission and goals of UP Manila’s research program are articulated through its central coordinating research body, the National Institutes of Health.
Even during the early decades of UP Manila when organizational structures for the conduct of systematic and ethical research were not yet in place, several studies had already served as basis for the national government to formulate relevant policies and programs to improve the health of Filipinos.
The researches on medicinal plants conducted by the National Integrated Research Program on Medicinal Plants (NIRPROMP) starting in 1977 became one of the basis for contemporary herbal medicine use in the Philippines. Its researches opened the doors to the production of more herbal medicines in the Philippines and enabled Filipinos to buy cheaper alternatives, such as lagundi for asthma, cough and bronchitis; and sambong for diuresis and urolithiasis, tsaang gubat for abdominal colic and spasm, and yerba buena for body pain.
When the Philippines was hit by several disasters in the early 1990s, the studies conducted by the faculty and staff of the Department of Psychiatry of the Philippine General Hospital provided the basis for the establishment of a “Program for Psychosocial Intervention in Disaster Management.” The program, that was eventually prepared into a book entitled “From Victims to Survivors: Psychosocial Intervention in Disaster Management” increased recognition for this field of health science and helped victims of disasters in rising from their traumatic experiences and rebuilding their lives.
Another early contribution to national health is the program on the preventive immunization of Filipino newborns for Hepatitis B that was spurred by a series of researches led by Ramon Magsaysay awardee, National Scientist and University Professor Emeritus Dr. Ernesto Domingo. The groundbreaking researches on Hepatitis B and other types of hepatitis led to a successful advocacy of neonatal hepatitis vaccination that has saved millions of lives in the Philippines.
The studies also resulted in the development of technologies on viral hepatitis. These included the rapid epidemiologic assessment for Hepatitis B positive individuals, production of diagnostic reagents for testing Hepatitis B virus carrier individuals, and microparticle agglutination test for Hepatitis C.
National Institutes of Health
The establishment of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1998 through Republic Act 8503 led to better direction and coordination of research and provided an organizational framework to generate and receive research funds for more relevant researches in health and biomedicine.
NIH serves as the center and coordinating body for all research units at UP Manila and is composed of nine institutes and more than 40 study groups. It aims to be a major resource center for health research and capacity building through the framework “Partnerships for Better Health.” As the recognized authority in health research and development, the NIH seeks to influence policy makers in enacting health laws, policies, and guidelines for health care delivery improvement; contribute to the enhancement of the knowledge and skills of health professionals; develop the capabilities of health researchers and research institutions; and lead in the formulation of national health research agenda.
With several component institutes and study groups in a wide range of health and biomedical disciplines, NIH is a pacesetter for innovative ideas in health research. The NIH component institutes are the Philippine Eye Research Institute, Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, Institute of Human Genetics, Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Institute of Health Policy and Development Studies, Institute of Herbal Medicine, Institute of Clinical Epidemiology, Institute on Aging, Newborn Screening Reference Center, Newborn Hearing Screening Reference Center, National Telehealth Center, and Philippine National Ear Institute.
Through these institutes, study groups, and network of researchers specializing in health and socio-biomedical concerns, NIH continues to generate outputs and technologies that guide and shape national policies and programs, particularly in health.
A big boost to the health of Filipinos, particularly newborns and children, are three screening and intervention programs that are products of long years of research. The studies were aimed at safeguarding the health of this vulnerable sector of the population against congenital genetic and metabolic disorders, hearing disorders, and vision defects.
The findings of the studies were used as basis in legislating the Newborn Screening Act of 2004 (Republic Act 9504). The law provides all Filipino newborns, regardless of socio-economic status, with comprehensive, affordable, and accessible newborn screening for congenital metabolic disorders and management of confirmed cases.
The law also empowered DOH to include newborn screening services in its licensing requirements. All DOH regional offices participate in the total implementation of the program: from advocacy, training to ensuring that all babies are recalled and brought for confirmation. Apart from DOH, newborn screening advocates started to move. Program champions within health facilities made newborn screening services part of the hospital policy. Local government units passed ordinances adopting the newborn screening program and providing support to its constituents. Allied medical professions also extended support, not just in terms of advocacy but in the improvement of the recall and treatment of patients. Various professional health and non-government organizations helped ensure that more indigents could avail of newborn screening services.
Today, close to 6,000 health facilities provide newborn screening to Filipino babies from Batanes down to Jolo, from the Polilio Islands to the tip of Palawan in the hospitals, local birthing homes, and rural health units.. Five Newborn Screening Centers were also established in strategic areas to run samples from all over the country: Angeles City, Pampanga (Northern and Central Luzon); Metro Manila (NCR, MIMAROPA, and Bicol regions); Tanauan City, Batangas (CALABARZON); Iloilo City (Visayas regions); and Davao (regions in Mindanao).
Another major health policy and program contribution is the Newborn Hearing Screening Act (Republic Act 9709) that requires all Filipino newborns to undergo screening for hearing disorders and be given timely and appropriate interventions. The Act establishes the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening for the Prevention, Early Diagnosis and Intervention of Hearing Loss. The law mandates the screening of the child below the age of one month and to be able to repeat the screening before the age of three months if the initial test failed for proper diagnosis of hearing loss. If positive, amplification tool or hearing aid should be put before the age of six months. This would optimize the possibility of the child developing some language despite the presence of hearing loss.
The passage of the law was prompted by a study of 700 babies born in a Bulacan provincial hospital which found that the prevalence of profound congenital newborn hearing loss was 1 per 724 or .14%. At the PGH Ear Unit, studies established the hearing loss prevalence among sick children to be 29% bilateral. Only 30% of these were being referred to the Unit at less than one year of age. All studies supported the need for intervention at age six months for the child to develop age-appropriate language
Apart from newborn hearing screening, vision screening is an ongoing research whose goal is to save more children from permanent blindness caused by the Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) and Amblyopia (lazy eye). Blindness from ROP and amblyopia are part of the causes of blindness of an estimated 480,000 Filipinos, of which a significant number are preventable and treatable. Figures from the situational analysis by the Philippine Eye Reserch Institute (PERI) and the World Health Organization show that of 237,070 premature births per year in the Philippines, 34,510 babies are at high risk for developing ROP. Only 9.2% of premature babies are screened for ROP, which leaves some 22,000 unscreened. At the Philippine General Hospital alone, 15% of deliveries or about 1,000 babies are born premature each year. One fourth of those screened would have ROP of which 90% are mild cases. The ROP situational showed that majority of premature infants were screened less than 32 weeks or those below 1500 grams birth weight. Other criteria used for screening include older babies or larger babies with prolonged oxygen therapy or those with stormy and unstable course in the intensive care unit. The study enabled Filipino experts to develop guidelines appropriate for the Philippines.
The vision screening for schoolchildren aims to identify children with amblyopia and refractive errors or those at risk of having visual problems. After 2 years of extensive research, PERI has developed a “Vision Screening Kit” for Filipino pupils. The kit includes LEA symbols chart, a transparent response key, eye occluders, and training manual, among others. Vision screening for children is a cost-effective way of identifying those with visual impairment, especially amblyopia or lazy eye. Permanent blindness can be avoided if lazy eye (amblyopia) is diagnosed and treated before age 7. 1 out of 20 preschoolers and 1 out of every 4 school pupils in the Philippines has an eye problem. For early-age children, the condition often goes unnoticed. This makes vision screening an important tool to prevent and treat visual impairment for this age group.
Other researches that have contributed to health policy solutions were the studies on the parasitic infections among Filipino schoolchildren that fueled the government’s adoption of a deworming program for this group; the program for the prevention and control of leptospirosis in the Philippines, a joint program with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and with Kyushu University of Japan; the program for the establishment of child protection units in concerned government institutions mandated under an administrative order issued by the Department of Health .
Other significant researches that are expected to contribute to health policy solutions include those on universal health care, maternal health and nutrition, aging, oral health, and public health, particularly schistosomiasis, HIV/AIDS, dengue and other infectious diseases, emergency preparedness and disaster management, and issues on biorisks and biosafety in the Philippines.