Uruguayan scientists have worked successfully with the government to get COVID-19 under control: with just 52 deaths out of 2,623 cases (as of 22 October), the figures are so far among the best in South America. But scientists are still confronted by the mass freezing of government research funds, proposed before the pandemic. Dismantling its fragile scientific system could leave the country ill-equipped to face the next unexpected challenge (see Nature 586, 169–170; 2020).

Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou’s government acted early in the pandemic to appoint a scientific advisory board to guide evidence-based decisions (see L. Taylor Br. Med. J. 370, m3575; 2020). Scientists and other scholars offered support by debunking misleading information, amplifying recommendations from the health ministry, pitching in grant money for coronavirus testing, and developing faster tests. This effective cooperation with researchers has been an example for politicians worldwide.

Uruguay allocates only 0.5% of its gross domestic product to science, putting research at a serious international disadvantage. Yet Uruguay still met its research-publication quota against investment last year (J. Paruelo et al. Preprint at https://doi.org/ffm5; 2020). Slashing these government funds could destroy three-quarters of the country’s research effort (see go.nature.com/3jkpy9i).