SARAWAK is a state to watch. The announcement by its Chief Minister to invest in an infectious disease centre is progressive.
Scientists have predicted that the Covid-19 pandemic is not going to be the last. Those who study the emergence of infectious diseases are convinced that we need to be prepared. As humans encroach into the habitats of microbes, these microbes will spill over into the former’s communities. This can be through host animals or other means of transfer to humans.
There are also those who experiment with microbes for various purposes, including use in agriculture. Mistakes are sometimes unavoidable in such experiments where, instead of producing beneficial microbes, they create harmful ones.
The worry is over the accidental release of bad microbes, which can infect us and create a pandemic.
Future wars will not be just about fighting nation states over water, oil or territorial claims. They will be about fighting disease-causing microbes and cybercrime. Health security and cybersecurity have now become part of high priority global strategic planning.
We have seen how both are economically damaging for countries. The spread of infectious software can paralyse digital systems. Sarawak pays serious attention to both as it had earlier launched the digital Sarawak project, another forward-thinking venture as the world moves aggressively into digitalisation.
The state government has set aside RM200mil for the construction of the new Sarawak Infectious Disease Centre (SIDC), as announced recently by the Chief Minister. Planned to be an internationally accredited research centre, it will be situated near the Sarawak Heart Centre and is expected to be ready by 2024.
Research projects planned include the Covid-19 Vaccine Serology study. Research collaborations with local and international partners to develop new vaccines are also being planned.
There is no denying the critical role of R&D in powering the nation forward in this digital age. It has become clear that coordination is a major challenge in getting the best returns from the huge investments in R&D.
Over the years, we have struggled to achieve effective coordination among the many research entities in the country. As a result, we have not been able to tap optimally into the large pool of research talents the country has. Sarawak is moving in the right direction. I am familiar with many research alliances that have demonstrated success around the world. One that stands out is Germany’s Fraunhofer research network. The Sarawak state administration can learn from this network, which now employs close to 30,000 scientists on an annual budget of €2.8bil (RM14bil), if it aims to establish the state as a leader in technology development.
Looking at the initiatives thus far, it is not impossible for Sarawak to lead the other states in R&D. What is needed is resolve by the leaders to continue on the path to R&D excellence.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Tan Sri Omar Centre for STI Policy Studies