The Army and the intelligence agency must not involve themselves in research to find a treatment for Covid-19. Soldiers and spies cannot produce a miracle cure.
THE handling of the Covid-19 pandemic should be kept far away from political motives. The desire for the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the Indonesian Army to participate in the endeavor against the pandemic should be limited to letting the epidemiologists and health care experts do their jobs. Sponsoring a campus research institute to look for a treatment is outside the responsibility of the two institutions. And neither was it appropriate for the Army and the intelligence agency to publicly announce the results of their research into the effectiveness and efficacy of their compound drug—which subsequently turned out to be unproven.
The resolute stance of the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM), which refused to issue a permit for distribution for this new compound drug, should be appreciated. According to the BPOM, clinical trials of compounds should be carried out on a larger and random sample of patients. When it carried out its clinical trials, the Center for the Investigation and Development of Stem Cell at Airlangga University tested the compound on students at the Army Officers College who had been infected but who had no symptoms. Usually, people without symptoms do not need treatment.
The root of the problem is that the Airlangga University researchers were not transparent when they carried out their research. The Airlangga University rector stated that the research began in March, not long after the Covid-19 began to spread. However, not a single paper on the research has been published in any scientific journal.
Airlangga University’s excuse that publishing their research would mean they were unable to keep it confidential clearly shows the lack of understanding and weak science tradition of these researchers. They should realize that publication of research is important in order to bring about a wide-ranging discussion involving experts across the world. It is regrettable that the campus felt that it had finished its work when it handed over the research report to the Army and BIN, the two bodies that had asked it to carry out the research and provided funding.
But seen from any viewpoint, the involvement of these two institutions in the technical problems of prevention and mitigation of a pandemic is clearly unacceptable. As widely reported, BIN has been busy carrying out Covid-19 swab tests in a number of provinces.
BIN is the state institution tasked with seeking and processing information so that any threat to the nation—from outside or from within the country—can be prevented. It has the authority to carry out surveillance of objects to determine whether there really is a potential threat. Information from BIN is used by the head of state when taking particular decisions or actions. Meanwhile the Army is a tool of the state to deal with threats from outside.
The President should put right this state of affairs. He must not allow institutions that report to him to stray from their responsibilities. It is important that these organizations behave in an orderly fashion to ensure that there are no overlaps of responsibilities or authority. The involvement of the Army in this drug research is also a violation of the principle of civil supremacy in governance.
The President must not allow this to continue. Rumors that the involvement of BIN and the Army has something to do with political competition in 2024 general election must be quashed. One way would be to return the two organizations to their proper functions. There is still much that the BIN chief and the Army chief-of-staff can do to ensure they go down in history and attract public attention. Interfering with something that is outside their competence will only lead to them losing sympathy.