The pandemic caused by COVID-19 also became a challenge for science in Colombia. Scientists in all areas of knowledge have the mission of researching and creating formulas to save humanity from the thousand faces of the crisis.
“The pandemic is what squeezes us now, behind the pandemic are all the environmental problems that come, energy problems and a different economic development,” says Moisés Wasserman, member of the Mission of the Wise Men.
Wasserman was part of the International Mission of Wise Men 2019. There were 47 national and international experts summoned by President Duque for the construction of a roadmap that will take Colombia to competitive levels of scientific research.
“It has not started, it is disappointing. We felt that instead of starting with the accelerator on, we started with the handbrake, ”says Wasserman.
Enrique Forero, president of the Academy of Exact Sciences, affirms that the debt with science in Colombia is a historical constant, and that they believed it would be overcome in this pandemic time.
“One expected that the Ministry of Science and Technology would be very hand in hand with the Ministry of Health, with the National Institute of Health and that did not happen, nor was the scientific community approached with the exception of some cases of the National Academy of Medicine. Support committees were created everywhere to make decisions. That did not happen here, ”says Forero.
The first good relations between the Government and scientists were broken over time, and ended with what some call, marked deep differences, especially due to the management that was given to the young Ministry of Science.
“We gave her a list of five top-level female scientists, we also gave her the names of top-level men, and We told him this is what we think a minister should be and it is as if we had not written that letter”, Says Enrique Forero.
The differences were marked in descriptions about the ministers, about the first holder of that portfolio, Mabel Torres, says Professor Forero: “He was a person who was against the scientific method.”
As for Minister Tito José Crissien, this was the discord:
“The current minister has problems in his resume due to some plagiarism that was demonstrated in articles in which he appears as a co-author, ”says Forero.
However, the debts with science go beyond the conflicts with the management of the ministry. Colombia is part of the exclusive club of the OECD, which groups together countries with the best economic and social practices of governments; Paradoxically, science in Colombia has had to survive on low budgets, and the dreaded cuts.
“We continue to invest much less, one-tenth of the OECD average, to which we belong in relation to the IDB, and much less than our neighbors, small neighbors,” says Wasserman.
The budget has suffered a dizzying fall since 2010 and its trend to 2022.
“The budget proposed for 2022 is almost half less than that of Colciencias in 2010”Says Wasserman.
“It is the lowest budget of all the ministries, including sports and culture, I have nothing against athletes and culture, but it is incredible that the Ministry of Science has a budget of 330 billion pesos when Culture has 482 thousand, Sports has 645 thousand and from there up. Education, Defense have very high budgets compared to Science and Technology ”, adds Forero.
Scientists are not giving up, and many of them are fighting linked to universities.
The Javeriana University in Bogotá, for example, is launching the first level 3 laboratory for the investigation of viruses such as COVID-19, in Colombia.
“We are the first laboratory commissioned under the international health standards of the United States,” explains Sebastián Velandia, laboratory safety officer.
Level 3 laboratories in charge of studying viruses that have not yet been treated, are little known and have a high mortality rate, which was achieved thanks to the support of the State.
“The ministry realized that we were in many shortcomings with respect to laboratories where viruses as dangerous as SARS–CoV–2, then he opened a call for laboratory improvements together with the general system of royalties ”, indicates María Fernanda Gutiérrez, researcher of the project.
These are hard times for science too. Scientists do not stop, they know that every minute counts, that is why they extend their hand to the Government so that in their last year they work in solidarity, where there is less speeches and more science.