DOST Central Office (Photo courtesy of DOST)

MANILA – Officials of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on Wednesday said the country will continue to leverage information and communications technology (ICT) for health.

"ICT for health is among our research priority areas. One of our goals in utilizing ICT is to bring health solutions closer to the patients -- the same goal which prompted (a team of researchers) to pursue the 'Aruga para sa Batang may Cancer' or ABC Initiative," DOST Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said in a virtual presser.

The initiative, he said, aims to develop a website that will bring "aruga" or care closer to pediatric cancer patients. To do this, there is a need to establish a platform that will provide the following: learning management system (LMS) with learning materials focused on palliative care for healthcare professionals and primary caregivers of pediatric patients with cancer; a pediatric oncology registry for health facility administrators; and a telemedicine platform for rural health units (RHUs), city health centers, and tertiary healthcare facilities in the National Capital Region, Region V, Region VII, and XI.

De la Peña said the DOST has been supporting this initiative. "To date, the LMS already catered to 225 healthcare institutions across the country, with 134 physicians enrolled to the Pediatric Palliative Care certification course, and 794 nurses registered to the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC) certification course," he said. These courses enhance the expertise of healthcare workers on palliative care services for pediatric cancer patients.

The DOST chief noted that by leveraging ICT for health, experts can forecast the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), enabling them to provide inputs for strategies to combat or curve the number of cases.

He said that the team behind the Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler for Early Detection of Diseases (FASSSTER) project that the DOST also supported had enhanced the FASSSTER application (app).

"Initially, the application was intended for creating predictive models and visualizing possible scenarios of outbreaks for dengue, typhoid fever, and measles, at specified periods," he said.

The team had enhanced FASSSTER to generate predictive models for Covid-19, to forecast the number of confirmed cases at a given area and a specified period. "This will serve as a support tool for decision-makers in implementing evidence-based measures that will mitigate the spread of Covid-19," he remarked.

They were successful in making FASSSTER generate disease models which can help the users project the effects of interventions such as community quarantine and current health capacities on the total number of confirmed cases, recoveries, according to de la Peña.

"To date, the technology has been adopted by the Department of Health as the official monitoring tool for Covid-19 in the country. The team continues to assist DOH in updating the models and analytics for continuous monitoring of Covid-19 by national agencies and local government units," he said.

DOST Undersecretary Rowena Cristina Guevara said these two research works continue to become relevant in addressing emerging healthcare problems.

"The impact of ICT in overcoming healthcare barriers was made more apparent by Covid-19. With this, we gladly supported the development of new ICT technologies. We hope that these projects were able to demonstrate how our support for ICT for health research, and R&D (research and development) as a whole, goes a long way, allowing us to address persisting health concerns," she said.

Guevara added that the DOST is committed to pushing for high-impact R&D that provides accessible health solutions for every Filipino. (PNA)