On Tuesday, several legislators raised questions about the product at a hearing session with ministry officials here.
Mindo Sianipar, a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle faction, said he hoped information on the ministry’s ‘inhaler' would not mislead the people because it is yet to pass any pre-clinical or clinical test.
At the hearing session of Commission IV of the House of Representatives (DPR), which oversees food and agriculture, Suhardi Duka, a legislator representing the Democratic Party faction, also questioned the relevance of the ministry in developing the product.
Medicines and health products need to ideally be issued by the Ministry of Health, while one of the Ministry of Agriculture's tasks is ensuring Indonesia's food security, he argued.
Therefore, Duka said, he was not sure that the eucalyptus-based product would easily win public trust if the Ministry of Agriculture distributed it.
Meanwhile, Ahmad Ali, a member of the National Democratic (Nasdem) Party faction, expressed his appreciation of the ministry's contribution to Indonesia's endeavors to fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) through its innovative product.
However, Ali suggested that the eucalyptus-based inhaler be carefully named so people are not misled. Sounding a note of caution, he said, so far, there have been no research-backed claims about any product effectively eliminating COVID-19 infections anywhere in the world.
The response from Indonesian scientists to news about the ministry’s innovation has been equally measured.
Prof. Dr. Zullies Ikawati, a scientist with Gadjah Mada University's Faculty of Pharmacy, was quoted by the ministry's research and development division as saying that the eucalyptus-based innovation would help patients suffering from a shortness of breath.
"I think, among the novel coronavirus symptoms are shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. This innovation is so valuable (for those conditions),” Ikawati was quoted as saying.
But, the ministry’s researchers need to take further steps, including conducting clinical trials at the ministry and at other agencies, to verify the product’s efficacy, she said.
Ikawati said she agreed with an in-vitro test for ascertaining the antivirus potency of the eucalyptus-based product.
Meanwhile, the University of Indonesia hinted on Sunday that it is ready to work with the Ministry of Agriculture's Veterinary Research Agency to conduct animal testing and clinical trials for the product.
"The University of Indonesia's Faculty of Medicine and the Indonesia Medical Education and Research Institute (IMERI) have been intensively conducting COVID-19-related research projects," dean of UI's Faculty of Medicine, Prof. Ari Fahrial Syam, said.
According to Syam, further research on the ministry's eucalyptus-based COVID-19 offering is needed to gauge the antiviral effect and effectiveness of the eucalyptus-based product.
Research projects focusing on the efficacy of the eucalyptus-based product for handling COVID-19 cases remain at the cell level, and at the in-vitro stage, he pointed out. So far, they are not directed specifically at the SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that triggers COVID-19, he added.
Speaking about the handling of the COVID-19 crisis, Syam said, the expectations of the Indonesian people, the media, and the government have been high. Therefore, research projects that have only been conducted at the cell level have claimed to have produced antivirus drugs, he stated.
Head of the Veterinary Research Agency at the Ministry of Agriculture, Indi Dharmayanti, revealed earlier that the ministry's COVID-19-related innovations remain at the in-vitro stages and require further research.
She clarified that the eucalyptus-based COVID-19 product developed by agency is, in fact, not a medicine because further research is still being conducted on it.
"Instead, it is an extraction resulting from the distillation method to kill the virus that we have used at the laboratory. After a screening process, the eucalyptus is able to kill the influenza virus and even coronavirus," she claimed.
The Ministry of Agriculture has officially obtained a patent for its COVID-19 product. It has also collaborated with PT Eagle Indo Pharma (Cap Lang) for its mass production.
The patent notwithstanding, the ministry must consider the suggestion made by legislators and scientists for further research and preclinical and clinical testing of the COVID-19 product.
The Indonesian government has been supporting research and innovation projects to help the nation battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Several leading universities in Indonesia have joined the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and made concrete contributions to efforts to save lives : from developing much-needed devices to research on COVID-19 treatment.
A team of scientists from the faculties of medicine and engineering at the University of Indonesia (UI), for instance, has developed a ventilator called COVENT-20 for patients suffering from the novel coronavirus disease.
As published on UI's official website, the Indonesian Health Ministry has declared the ventilator has passed human clinical trials.
The Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) has also developed a ventilator for COVID-19 patients, in collaboration with the Pembina Masjid Salman Foundation and Faculty of Medicine, Padjadjaran University (UNPAD). (INE)
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