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Marape attacks scientists over Covid research

Professor William Pomat
Professor William Pomat - defended himself against an intemperate attack by James Marape


NOOSA - The Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research has defended itself against charges by prime minister James Marape that it has failed to undertake innovative research into Covid-19 since the pandemic began early last year.

Strongly criticising the Institute, Marape had said he was greatly discouraged by the inaction and lax attitude shown by the country’s leading medical research facility.

“I am yet to see a good complete submission from (PNGIMR) that says ‘I want to do research’,” Marape said.

“No innovation. No motivation. No excitement in the space of research and science. Do you need the prime minister to tell you what to do? Sometimes I think maybe I am wasting my time up front.”

He said research was always needed and welcomed but researchers must come forward, state their case and justify the needed funding.

In response, Institute director Professor William Pomat said he welcomed the prime minister’s “challenge” but “realises that the prime minister is not aware of all our research activities on Covid-19 and other life-threatening diseases”.

Pomat said he had spoken to Marape about his comments in the media and the prime minister had explained they were “taken out of context”.

Marape had also extended an invitation for the Institute to discuss the matter with him.

“Our Institute is very active, despite the challenges that Covid-19 has imposed on operations in the last 18 months,” Pomat said, saying some staff had been re-assigned to conduct Covid testing and awareness programs.

He said the only funding allocated by the government had been to support Covid testing, not research.

Nevertheless, the Institute has commenced 11 research projects on preventing, testing and treating Covid-19 infections and minimising the negative impacts of the pandemic.

Pomat said the Institute has made submissions to Cabinet for infrastructure development that would increase its capacity to conduct research that could be translated into policy actionable policy to improve the health of Papua New Guineans.

“My request now is for the government to set aside dedicated research funding, say two percent of all revenue, to conduct relevant research in all fields,” Pomat said.

Last November Marape approved over K10 million to an unknown company, Niugini BioMed Ltd, formed three months earlier claiming it had identified 10 potential “treatments” for Covid.

PomatThe then health minister Sir Puka Temu said he supported BioMed’s submission, arguing PNG had not spent enough money researching treatment for Covid.

Temu said his department would ensure the research “will be done properly [and] meets global scientific research standards”.

At the time Professor Pomat said he had not been consulted on the Niugini BioMed “discovery” and was concerned his Institute had been bypassed.

Nothing has been heard since of the company, its earth-shattering "discovery" or the K10 million.


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Bernard Corden

With the emergence of George Stigler's regulatory capture, government funding for many research establishments in most western democracies was decimated and forced many organisations to seek finance for research projects directly through corporate sponsors.

Its extent is quite sinister and scientism has an established tradition of manipulating evidence, data and analysis to create and maintain an auspicious environment for industry at material and ideological levels.

The Purdue Pharma opioid scandal in the US involving the Sackler family, and the Boeing Max 7 MACS federal authority approval process, provide sufficient evidence.

Robert Seneka

Research institutions in the country were setup to generate research information to guide decision makers in policies, regulations, laws and etc. However, the governments of the past and present continue to ignore providing sufficient funding for research. What common sense he has in providing K10 million for research outside of the research institute that is responsible for medical research and development.

Lindsay F Bond

Chances are that the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research deals much with fact more than the current prime minister with his one and only vocal act.

Stephen Charteris

Very much a case of “whataboutery - hey, look over there”.

It is common knowledge that PNGIMR is starved of funds and effectively operates with both hands tied behind its back.

Professor Pomat has a very good team of capable scientists and technicians but even the best fisherman in the village won’t catch many fish without hooks, line and a canoe.

If you want their contribution, seek their advice and fund them.

Wills Motz

Prime Minister Marape needs to apologise publicly to the Medical Research Institute for his comments and explain to the people of Papua New Guinea why he bypassed the Institute and gave K10 million to Niugini BioMed that has not provided any result yet.

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