Members of UPLB Program for Zoonotic Diseases hold strategic planning, identify research projects for possible funding

Following the U.P. Board of Regents’ approval of the UPLB Program for Zoonotic Diseases, the members of the research program have mapped out their activities for the next three years and identified projects for possible funding during their online strategic planning workshop last 22-23 June 2021.

Led by Program Director and veterinary expert Jezie A. Acorda and Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension Merdelyn C. Lit, the program currently has eight research components each led by UPLB experts and senior researchers.

These eight components are epidemiology and data science; microbial research; parasite and vector biology and control; pathology and diagnostics; zoonoses prevention and control; food and feed safety; communication and knowledge management; and animal research.

During the workshop, Dr. Acorda said that the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the lack of disease surveillance and response in the country. “So we need to have a system that can look at the aspects of these diseases before they even occur to help us prepare for how we should respond,” he said.

That’s why we have this Program for Zoonotic Diseases, which hopefully will enable us to have advanced innovative research, techniques, and prepare the country towards responding to emerging and reemerging zoonotic diseases,” he continued.

With this goal in mind, the members held a two half-day online strategic planning workshop to map out the program’s research and public service activities for the next three years.

UPLB zoonoses program in the next 3 years

Each division presented their matrices on their completed activities, ongoing studies, and target research, public service initiatives, and funding agencies. The two half-day sessions successfully led the team to identify the addition of a new research component on social sciences for policy and extension, as well as proposals to be submitted to various agencies for possible funding.

The Social Sciences for Policy and Extension Division will be led by Dr. Aileen Lapitan from the College of Public Affairs and Development, together with Dr. Julieta A. Delos Reyes of the College of Economics and Management. “Ang gusto namin tingnan in particular is ‘yung policy framework that’s relevant to zoonoses,” Dr. Lapitan shared.

The team is planning to propose some of the research projects to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Science for Change Program under the Niche Center in the Region (NICER) Program.

DOST’s NICER Program funds Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with unique and locally impactful projects that are also structured to foster collaboration with other HEIs in their respective region.

The research projects, covering seven of PZD’s nine components, will hopefully comprise UPLB’s second Niche Center in the Region for R&D. This is shortly after the Museum of Natural History became the Regional Center for Cave Ecosystem Research in CALABARZON.

Currently, the projects are focused on addressing potential and existing zoonotic diseases and disease surveillance in the country; developing rapid testing kits; and having a data collection and management system for poultry and livestock. There will also be a study on vector informatics, and on the assessment of knowledge, attitudes, and practices in relation to zoonoses.

The other projects will tackle medical anthropology, economic valuation, policy scoping, stakeholders’ adoption of measures, and gender gaps in surveillance, transmission, and control of zoonoses.

During presentation, VCRE Lit reminded component members on the importance of having local or international research collaborations. “Sinasabi nga nila (ng BOR) na malinaw doon sa mga projects ang national and international collaboration. So siguro ‘yun ‘yung tignan ng bawat division, dapat talaga meron siyang ka-link na either national or international (collaboration),” she said.

The Program will also conduct webinars, trainings, and fora as their public service activities for the next three years, They plan to engage students, researchers from various state universities and colleges (SUCs), and government agencies in building knowledge and capacity on important topics and issues concerning zoonoses research, surveillance, and control.

The Program will also maximize the web and social media for their proposed public service initiatives, and explore opportunities and resources that will help in intensifying the UPLB’s science communication initiatives for zoonoses.

PZD will also attempt to secure additional external funding for the renovation and upgrading of existing biocontainment and animal research facilities in the university.

Vision for the UPLB Program for Zoonotic Diseases

Dr. Acorda said that PZD is envisioned to become a leading research and knowledge resource center in Asia that can help promote the One Health approach – which recognizes the interconnection among human health, animal health, and the shared environment.

The multidisciplinary program will be the foundation of the establishment of the National Zoonoses Center at UPLB that is well-equipped with laboratories and facilities to support diagnostic testing, infectious disease surveillance, zoonoses risk analysis and reduction, and extensive research and public service activities, among others.

Created through the approval of the UP Board of Regents during its 1359th meeting held last 25 March, the UPLB Program for Zoonotic Diseases is planning to conduct a formal launching this coming August.