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PANAMA - Telecoms & IT

Dr. Eduardo Ortega Barria

National Secretary for Science, Technology and Innovation (SENACYT), Panama

Bio

Dr. Eduardo Ortega Barria is National Secretary for Science, Technology and Innovation (SENACYT).

"One of the collaborations with the Panama Canal is to provide it with scholarships so it can develop the workforce it needs for the future."
What strategies is your administration implementing to address the shortage of scientists in Panama?

We are in the process of finishing our administration for the current government and are working hard to close some of those projects that we initiated a few years ago that sought to address the priorities of the country. A major challenge in Panama is the number of scientists. In most countries, this figure is about 1,000 scientists per 1 million inhabitants, whereas in Panama, there are 129 scientists per 1 million inhabitants. There is a tremendous gap regarding the number of scientists, which means there is a gap in the generation as well as the transfer of knowledge. This also means there is insufficient innovation or technology in the country. Accordingly, one of our priorities is to provide the country with a critical mass of scientists.

How does your scholarship program for Panamanian students studying abroad contribute to workforce development and innovation?

One of the collaborations with the Panama Canal is to provide it with scholarships so it can develop the workforce it needs for the future; however, we do not only have initiatives with the Panama Canal but also with the public and private sectors. There are currently close to 600 Panamanians studying abroad that have been accepted into one of the 200 top universities in the world based on the Shanghai ranking, and we pay for their entire education if it is in our priority areas, such as logistics, climate change, health, energy, or computer science. We have to create the conditions to start working on the next revolution for Industry 4.0. When they complete their studies, they return to Panama to work on knowledge transfer and boosting the local economy.

How does SENACYT plan to expand its postgraduate programs in Panama?

We have created 13 postgraduate programs and scientific programs in Panama at the University of Panama and the Technological University of Panama in the areas of engineering and different fields of science. We also have two PhD programs—one with the University of Panama for physician-scientists and another with the Technological University of Panama for biotechnology. SENACYT has 15 postgraduate programs with 150 students in Panama that complement our efforts abroad. Our programs may be small, but we want to invest more on quality than quantity. In the future, we will broaden those programs and recruit more students.

How do you envision the impact of SENACYT’s regional Center for Innovation in Vaccines and Biopharmaceuticals?

SENACYT is inaugurating a regional Center for Innovation in Vaccines and Biopharmaceuticals in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas A&M University in College Station, the International Vaccine Institute in Korea, and the Institute Oswaldo Cruz in Brazil. The center plans to host both Panamanian and Latin American scientists in its bid to become a regional center. There is no similar institution in Central America and the Caribbean, except in Cuba. We want to become a regional center for workforce development and research in diseases of poverty, emerging diseases, and diseases with the potential of outbreaks and pandemics. As part of our work, we will also try to attract scientists from other Latin American countries, including Argentinians, Hawaiians, Colombians, and Brazilians, to come to Panama and work with us in the Regional Center for Innovation and Vaccines and Biopharmaceuticals.

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