Coronavirus: Indonesia's start-ups join forces to boost local production of test kits

Unicorns, individuals pump in funds to help achieve target of doubling testing capacity

The move to produce test kits locally is to reduce reliance on imports.
The move to produce test kits locally is to reduce reliance on imports.PHOTO: AFP

Indonesia's unicorns and start-ups have joined forces to produce test kits locally, a move that may help President Joko Widodo achieve his target of doubling testing capacity for Covid-19 as cities across the world's fourth most populous country gradually lift restrictions.

A unicorn refers to any tech start-up that reaches US$1 billion (S$1.39 billion) in market value.

Jakarta-based East Venture, which has a portfolio of start-up companies, recently raised 10 billion rupiah (S$983,000) to develop prototypes of locally made polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits.

Unicorns Tokopedia, an e-commerce platform, and Traveloka, an airline ticketing and hotel booking company, were among several companies and individuals contributing monies to the Indonesia Pasti Bisa (Indonesia Can Do It) initiative, which comes under the auspices of Indonesia's Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT).

Jakarta-based genomics technology start-up Nusantics was appointed by the government to design the test kit prototypes, which it did for free.

The firm's chief executive, Ms Sharlini Eriza Putri, told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the prototypes were validated by laboratories across Indonesia last month as being equivalent to those imported.

These laboratories comprise those appointed by the government to carry out PCR tests.

State-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma has produced and distributed 100,000 test kits based on the Nusantics prototypes.

BPPT deputy chief Soni Solistia Wirawan said the test kits are more suited to local needs as they are being produced based on samples taken from coronavirus patients in Indonesia.

The move to produce test kits locally is aimed at reducing reliance on imports.

Indonesia has seen orders of test kits made overseas being cancelled and, in some instances, hijacked by other countries, as it grapples with the coronavirus which has infected more than 33,000 people and killed over 1,900 in the country.

The funds raised in the initiative were used to procure raw materials for the prototypes, manufacture the final test kits as well as pay for transporting them to laboratories across Indonesia.

"The challenge going forward is to always monitor the virus mutation, to regularly check if the test kits need updating," Ms Sharlini said.

Indonesia has seen orders of test kits made overseas being cancelled and, in some instances, hijacked by other countries, as it grapples with the coronavirus which has infected more than
​33,000 people and killed over 1,900 in the country.

Cities across Indonesia have moved to ease restrictive measures three months after the first local coronavirus case was detected.

Jakarta, the epicentre of infections in the country, entered a "transition phase" last Friday, with places of worship and workplaces allowed to open amid strict health guidelines. These include operating at only 50 per cent capacity.

Shopping centres in the city are slated to open in the middle of this month.

Mr Joko had earlier underlined the need to raise testing capacity to 20,000 tests a day, after Indonesia early this month achieved its target of 10,000 tests a day.

The President also stressed that aggressive contact tracing measures using communication technology - such as mobile GPS - must be introduced quickly.

Before this month, Indonesia had one of the lowest testing rates among countries with a population of 50 million or more, according to pandemic data site Worldometer.

But the country of 270 million is no longer near the bottom of the list, having achieved a test rate of 1,570 per million population, Worldometer data showed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2020, with the headline 'Indonesia's start-ups join forces to boost local production of test kits'. Subscribe