Network of Epistemic Community: New hope for the future

Network of Epistemic Community: New hope for the future

Indonesian healthcare workers conduct swab test of COVID-19. (Foto Antarabengkulu.com/Bisri Mustofa)

Consequently, the knowledge, expertise, and experience to strengthen our health system and build epidemiological defence must be shared and spread out throughout the world to fortify humanity against this pandemic
Gita L. Murti is Deputy Director of Socio-cultural Cooperation of Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The current COVID-19 pandemic generates unprecedented twin crises that are truly global: health crisis and economic crisis resulted from necessary measures to contain the pandemic.

Lockdowns, travel restrictions, quarantines, physical distancing, and other stringent public-health measures are required to delay the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, a safe, quality and efficacious vaccine, medicines, diagnostics, and other health products are urgently needed because it may not be economically viable for governments to extend these measures for an indefinite period of time.

Currently the world is racing to find the cure and vaccine to combat COVID-19. The development of an effective, safe, affordable and accessible medicines and vaccine for COVID-19 is vital to ending the pandemic and resuming social and economic activities.

This pandemic has also magnified once again the importance of research and development, scientific knowhow to detect, prevent and treat diseases and finally overcome the pandemic. The current vaccine race to prevent COVID-19 is a testament of how the epistemic or scientific community is the backbone of the fight against the pandemic.

Peter M. Haas in 1992 defined Epistemic Community as "a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge in that domain or issue area". In this context, researchers, health and epidemiological experts are crucial to end the pandemic. We rely on their expertise and knowhow to find the best cure and vaccine for COVID-19. Unfortunately, this scientific capacity and technical knowhow are not equally dispersed across the globe, with most of them concentrated in developed world.

The problem with COVID-19 is that this virus does not discriminate as it can infect anybody. In a highly interdependent and globalized world, human beings are only as strong as their weakest link. Consequently, the knowledge, expertise, and experience to strengthen our health system and build epidemiological defence must be shared and spread out throughout the world to fortify humanity against this pandemic.

Therefore, in the spirit of overcoming the current pandemic and anticipating the possibility of future ones, there should be intensive cooperation among epistemic communities to share information and best practices in the fight against diseases. This cooperation must be institutionalized and encompassed between developed and less developed world to ensure the transference of knowledge and technology. Joint research between researchers and research institutes would be the high call for this type of cooperation.

However, this kind of cooperation does not produce instant result. It has to be maintained regularly and nurtured over time. It has a long-term goal; robust trans-national scientific collaboration to address global health problems. To begin with, there is a merit of establishing a network of research between researchers and research institutions that meet regularly albeit virtually should the situation to have physical meeting isn’t conducive in the near future. This regular meeting serves as the avenue for discussions, exchange of views, experience and knowledge sharing on endeavours to fight the pandemic and lesson learnt to anticipate future pandemic. This network of research can be established under umbrella forums or intergovernmental organizations consisting member states with various stages of economic development and/or geographical diversity such as G20, Foreign Policy and Global Health (FPGH), East Asia Summit (EAS), APEC, Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), and many others.

This network of research will gradually build camaraderie, confidence and encourage knowledge sharing among epistemic community. The network built upon this regular dialogues and exchanges will also lay a solid foundation for more intensive cooperation such as joint research whereby transfer of technology can transpire. This network between epistemic communities typically reflects what James Montville (1991) described as a form of Track Two diplomacy where there can be unofficial and informal interactions that gradually build confidence and trust among its members.

The network is also a media where the so-called “vaccine science diplomacy” can take place. Vaccine science diplomacy is the subset of vaccine diplomacy coined by Peter J. Hotez (2014) as “joint development of life-saving vaccines and related technologies, with the major actors typically scientists”, which basically informal global health diplomacy based on peer-to-peer interactions. The transfers of knowledge resulted from this interaction is based on the notion that scientists share ethical codes emphasizing that knowledge should be free and belong to humanity.

Thus, should the world be faced with another scourge of pandemic, this network of research is already one step ahead by activating the cobweb of scientific knowledge they have built among themselves, to collaborate finding the best remedy to contain the disease.

With various international organizations and forums that Indonesia is active in, Indonesia should be able to initiate this network and pursue it as one of its long-term strategies to fight the current and anticipate the possibility of the occurrence of future pandemics.

The views and opinions expressed on this page are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ANTARA News Agency

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