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Treatment Reactions hampering the Eradication of Leprosy in Papua

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Jayapura, Jubi — Leprosy was mostly wiped out in Indonesia two decades ago, but because it remains prevalent in some far-flung regions, the archipelago nation ranks third in cases of the disease after India and Brazil.

In remote villages in Papua and West Papua provinces, the Indonesian government’s efforts to combat the disease have been hampered by life-threatening adverse reactions to a World Health Organization-recommended anti-leprosy medication called Dapsone. The reactions pose such a risk that some doctors have stopped administering the drug altogether.

Enter genetic testing startup Nalagenetics, which was founded in 2016 by a team of scientists from Indonesia and Singapore.

The company sees a crucial role for itself in addressing such public health problems. The startup collaborates with the Genome Institute of Singapore to develop pharmacogenomic testing — finding out how a person’s genes affect their bodies’ response to medicines —  with the aim of reducing adverse drug reactions and increasing prescription efficacy. This is carried out through the use of reagents and analytical software that the team develops under the intellectual property collaboration.

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Last year, Nalagenetics won its first major contract from the Indonesian health ministry to distribute 1,000 genetic test kits in five villages in Papua and West Papua. It found that 20% of leprosy patients there carry the gene responsible for potentially fatal reactions to Dapsone. This discovery has helped doctors decide which patients can be safely treated with the antibiotic.

“What we told doctors is, ‘If you test these patients first, and you know which drugs work for whom, you can actually give the right drug to the right people,'” Nalagenetics chief exeuctive co-founder Levana Sani told the Nikkei Asian Review in her co-working space in Jakarta. The Singapore-based startup sees Indonesia as its main target market.

“I think that idea resonated a lot with the [Indonesian] government because the government cares about leprosy patients. They want to solve this problem,” she added.

Nalagenetics received $1 million in a pre-seed funding round last November from Southeast Asia- and Japan-focused fund East Ventures, Indonesia-focused Intudo Ventures and some angel investors.

Levi, as Sani preferred to be called, said Nalagenetics had not immediately thought of accessing venture capital funding as it had been receiving science grants, including one from Singapore’s science and research agency, A*STAR, dedicated to scientists turning their research work into business ventures. The startup has received 500,000 Singapore dollars ($366,000) in total grants.

Indeed, Nalagenetics was born out of a science lab: the Genome Institute of Singapore, where Levi met three senior colleagues who later became her co-founders. This happened during her internship at the institute, after the Indonesian native earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California and before her two-year study at the Harvard Business School.

“[My co-founders] were like, OK, we really want to create a company because we think we can do more than just publishing papers,” Levi said.

She started taking care of Nalagenetics full time upon her return from the U.S. in September, with a second co-founder set to join her soon. The other two co-founders hold senior positions at the genome institute, and will continue to act as advisers to Nalagenetics. The startup currently has 10 employees, but it is recruiting amid expansion plans.

Genetic testing is not new in the startup scene. The U.S. has led the market for consumer-oriented gene analysis services, thanks to the presence of many promising startups such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA.

In Asia, Hong Kong-based Prenetics had earlier entered Southeast Asia, and began operations in mainland China in April. It has raised a total of $52.7 million, according to Crunchbase, which keeps track of startups. Meanwhile, China-focused 23Mofang raised a total of 200 million yuan ($29 million) last year.

Apart from pharmacogenomic services, Prenetics, which could be considered Nalagenetics’ closest rival, offers general genetic profiling that allows subjects to understand their alcohol tolerance, what diets work best for them and risks of cancer and other diseases, for example.

But while Prenetics partners with insurance companies to offer testing kits to policyholders, Nalagenetics opts to collaborate directly with doctors and hospitals. The goal is to develop genetic tests suitable to their specific prescription needs — with a focus on cancer, cardiovascular and psychiatry treatments, as well as those for infectious diseases like leprosy.

Nalagenetics is currently partnering with research hospitals in Jakarta and Singapore, and is planning to enter Thailand next year. Citing ongoing legal negotiations, however, it declined to name its hospital partners.

“What we really want to do is to make this [genetic testing] part of a national guideline of a country,” Levi said, adding that Nalagenetics is well on its way in that direction with the Dapsone leprosy treatment in Indonesia. “Because that means … the whole nation is a captive market.”

Eddy Chan, founding partner at Intudo Ventures, sees business opportunities in Nalagenetics’ “razor focus” on seemingly niche markets, which he said is simply a starting point.

“Once such a company delivers massive value and delightful experiences to its customers, it can greatly expand the market itself and their product offering to customers,” Chan said.

This seems to ring true. Levi said following the leprosy project in Indonesia, Nalagenetics has received similar requests — albeit of smaller scale — from Nepal and India. There have also been other orders from Australia and Dubai.

“With these things, because the market is still quite new, we don’t need massive [promotions],” Levi said. “We only need one distributor or one partner who have full trust on our product, and then it will become a lab reference in the country.”

Galen Growth Asia, a health tech research firm, said 2018 was a record-breaking year, with $6.3 billion invested in health tech companies in the Asia-Pacific region. And in the January-March period, total investment in digital health in the region exceeded the $1 billion mark, edging ahead of the U.S. for the first time. With China stagnating and India plummeting, Southeast Asia drove the growth, accounting for 22% of all deals in the first quarter, up 11% year on year.

Chan said Intudo is bullish on the prospects of the health tech industry in Southeast Asian countries, citing their health care spending as a percentage of gross domestic product that remains below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s average.

Initiatives taken by regional governments, such as Indonesia’s expanding universal coverage scheme BPJS, are another driving factor. Levi said Nalagenetics won the leprosy contract through a BPJS tender, and that it is preparing to take part in other tenders under the same program. (*)

This article appeared first time on asia.nikei.com

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The marketing strategy of Papuan woman traders to survive amid the pandemic

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Illustration betel nut seller. – Jubi

Papua, Jubi – The COVID-19 outbreak has emerged a new dilemma for everybody. On the one hand, they should restrict their activities, but on the other hand, they have to work to get income for their families.

A consumer Delia Mallo said she is very concerned about Papuan women traders at Pharaa traditional market in Sentani, Jayapura Regency during the pandemic.

“It’s so sad to see them should go home early while not many people could come to buy their commodities,” Mallo said when shopping in Pharaa Market on Thursday (25/6/2020).

The restriction during the pandemic made the traders go home earlier than usual, and people’s concern about the coronavirus transmission has increasingly impacted on the traders’ income.

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“Since the emergence of COVID-19, I am worried (to stay longer in the market). After buying fish, I immediately go home,” said Mallo.

Because they have to go home early, traders reduce the price of their commodities to prevent substantial loss because of rot.

Tilapia fish, for example, is priced at half of its regular price. The fish harvested from Lake Sentani is usually sold for Rp 80 to 100 thousand per pile, but now sold for only Rp 40 to 50 thousand per pile. Each pile can weigh more than 1 kilogram.

“To be sold, so we just let it go at a low price. The important thing is we can still get money for trading tomorrow,” said Anace Suebu.

Mrs Suebu displayed her fish on a 2 x 3 meters table at the Pharaa Market, and her income has significantly decreased since the COVID-19 pandemic. “I could usually take Rp 1 million a day before the pandemic, but now it’s crushed,” she said.

As a result, she also needs to restrict her purchase. She could no longer be able to buy fish at large quantities. Her income has significantly declined, while she still has to continue spending money for daily needs.

“I told my customers to be patient. I cannot buy fish at large quantities because I don’t have sufficient money,” said the mother of four.

New Dilemma 

The new dilemma that emerged due to the COVID-19 is not only happening to Suebu but also hundreds or even thousands of Papuan woman traders. Their economy has suffered due to the pandemic.

“I used to bake (sell) twenty pieces of bread, but it’s only 15 now for Rp 15 thousand per piece,” said Karolina Fonataba who usually sells bread in the Pharaa Market.

During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fonataba, a woman of Biak Numfor, had moved her business to the former Doyo Baru Market. She did it to cope with the restriction rule applied in Jayapura Regency. Because she lives near the market, she can adjust her trading time. Also, she adds another commodity to sell, namely sago, which she sold for Rp 10 to 20 thousand per piece.

“Relying on the income from selling bread is not enough (for daily needs).”

However, she could not stay longer in the new location and decided to return to the Pharaa Market by selling the same commodities, bread and sago.

“In the former Doyo Baru Market, there were even fewer consumers. It was only 5-10 pieces of bread sold (every day),” told this sixty-five years old woman.

Although she has added the items of her commodities and returned to the Pharaa Market, her income is still far lower than in the usual time. “I could get Rp 150-200 thousand in the past, but now it declines to Rp 50-100 thousand, while a sack of sago usually sold out in three days, but now it takes a week.”

To survive during the pandemic, Fonataba has attempted various ways. “I also deliver (sell) the bread from door to door. The customers can pay whenever they can.”

In the meantime, Mariche also applied a similar strategy of survival during the COVID-19 pandemic. She sells betel nuts at the former Doyo Baru Market. “Although people say the COVID-19 is dangerous, I keep selling. If not, we cannot eat.”

However, Mariche, a woman from Demta, has to deal with her stock purchase to avoid loss. “I used to buy 2-3 sacks, but now it’s reduced. I run out of money, while fewer customers come to buy.”(*)

 

Reporter: Yance Wenda

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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Illegal gold mining in Jayapura has been happening since 2001

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Police arrested 17 people related to illegal mining in Buper, Waena, Jayapura City. – Jubi/Courtesy

Jayapura, Jubi – Jayapura Municipal Police arrested 17 people who allegedly were involved in illegal gold mining in Bumi Perkemahan (Buper) Waena, Jayapura City on Friday, 26 June 2020.

“These seventeen people are operators of heavy equipment and worker coordinators. There are about 70 people involved in this business,” Jayapura Municipal Police Chief Gustav Urbinas told reporters on Friday (26/6/2020).

In their operation, the Police also seized two units of construction equipment, six excavators, liquid mercury and eleven jerrycans of diesel fuel.

Police Chief Urbinas said he received a report on this illegal activity two months ago, but at that time he could not arrest those who were involved because they escaped the mining site.

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Illegal miners have carried out their activity in Buper, Waena, since 2001 because this sector was promising to generate income.

Four years ago, a gold miner Frans told suara.com about his experience regarding this illegal activity. He said people only need simple equipment such as a hoe, pan, and sifter for doing this activity. He further explained that all panning processes were traditional, starting from finding rocks, crushing it and putting the grinds in the pan. After mixing with water, the grids would look like porridge, and through the panning process, we can see gold flakes. However, to get gold containing rocks was not simple. People should dig at least three meters depth under the ground.

“But not all rocks we met contained gold. We would find out about the weight and type of gold after mixing it into liquid mercury,” he told suara.com.

Considering this, the income of gold miners was uncertain. If they were lucky, he and his friends could get 20 to 100 grams of 24 carats which could trade at Rp 400 thousand per gram.

“It’s all depending on the current gold price. It fluctuated following the increase in the oil price. But its price now is Rp 400 thousand,” he said.

Ten years ago, the Jayapura Municipal Government had attempted to stop the illegal mining in Buper that has been happening since 2001. But, the Ondofolo (Tribal Chief) of Kampung Babrongko Waena, Ramses Wally, disagreed with the city government.

At that time, Ramses said if the city government banned this panning activity, they should provide job opportunities to those illegal gold miners. (*)

 

Reporter: Victor Mambor

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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Papuan footballers and high education

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Persipura team captain  Boaz T Solossa in his graduation ceremony at Cenderawasih University. – Jubi/courtesy

Jayapura, Jubi – Ferinando Pahabol, a Papuan footballer who currently plays for Persipura, admitted that he decided to become a footballer because of his talent and hobby. But, his parents wanted him to be more concerned about his education than playing football.

Football is a popular game for children in Papua. They play football on the street, and create a local freestyle football known as ‘patah kaleng’. In this local freestyle, the goal gates are made from cans (kaleng) and no goalkeeper. Instead, all players are strikers and defenders at the same time.

Papuan children often have a dream of becoming a footballer, but their parents would never let them go further.

“Do you think you can count on football when you grow up?” said the parents who thought there is no future in football.

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Yanto Rudolf Basna, a Papuan footballer from Sorong Selatan, thought he must finish his study at Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta. Therefore, he posted his gratitude on Facebook when he finally graduated after being studying for about six years, even though he is currently a centre-back defender of Sukhotai FC who competes in Thailand League. Basna previously played for Khon Kaen of Thai League 2 in 2018 but was not capable of upgrading the club to Thai League 1.

According to transfermarkt, Basna signed a contract of £125 thousand or Rp 2,212 milliard, while the most expensive Papuan footballer Boaz Sollosa get paid  £275 thousand or Rp 4,42 milliard. Another footballer Osvaldo Haay got a contract of £300 thousand or Rp 5,795 million, and Ferinando Pahabol signed an agreement of £125 thousand or Rp 2,196 milliard.

However, although he has a high-value contract, Basna still needs to finish his study at Universitas Negeri Yogyakarta. He admitted to doing his exams online and has to complete his education for almost six years. He said he must fulfil his parents’ wish for him to finish his higher education at university.

“Thank God that after six years, I passed my thesis exam. Although it was online, it would not reduce my happiness,” he said on his Facebook.

Moreover, Basna, who was a former national team captain, said education is one of his burdens during his career as a professional footballer. But he finally can get through it. “It’s one of my personal goals that comes through,” said Basna.

“I remember that ten years ago before I went to Uruguay, my father, my mother, and my young siblings were sitting in the living room. Then my father asked me, “do you want to go to school or play football?” he wrote.

Without a second thought, Basna decided to play football because at that time he had an opportunity to train in Uruguay. His fellow team in SSB Numbay Star, Terens Puhiri, followed his step a year later. According to former SSB Numbay Star the late Amos Makanway, his two players Terens Puhiri and Yanto Basna had stood out since they were at Numbay Star soccer school.

“Then my father said it’s fine if it was your decision, and I got support from my family. However, my father gave me one condition, that I should give 60 per cent of my efforts to football and 40 per cent for school, and I cannot leave one of them,” said Basna.

His father’s advice becomes his reminder to keep his focus on one thing, that is his football talent. However, he is also aware that he cannot undermine another important thing, namely higher education.

Other footballers also have parents who want them to keep playing football but finish school at the same time. Take an example of three Persipura players, Gerald Rudolf Pangkali, Ferinando Pahabol, and Ronny Esar Beroperay. They all graduated from Cenderawasih University. Earlier, other footballers Ian Kabes, Stevie Bonsapia, Boaz T Solossa and Ortizan Solossa also finished their study from Cenderawasih University. (*)

 

Reporter: Dominggus Mampioper

Editor: Pipit Maizier

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