Mar 28 , 2020
By Bereket Kefyalew
If there is any silver lining to the global outbreak of this pandemic, it is that technology and the health sector are becoming ever more intertwined as new technological solutions that help in combating the COVID-19 virus have emerged, writes Bereket Kefyalew (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org), director of the sector modernisation team at the Technology & Innovation Institute.
The Second World War cost millions of lives, but one of its unintended positive contributions to the world was the advancement of science and technology in their utility for humankind.
Similarly, we are now in a war with an invisible enemy where each individual, along with governments, is fighting the spread of COVID-19. Hundreds of thousands have contracted the virus and tens of thousands have died. Europe has been the worst-hit region as a result of the pandemic.
Over the past two weeks, more African countries, including Ethiopia, have reported their first cases. There has been a steady trickle of Coronavirus cases ever since, and this has led to the lockdown of social lives.
Many speculations and predictions are being made as to what the world will look like in the post-COVID-19 period. However, what is even more interesting and what is supported by the evidence thus far is the emergence of tech as a key weapon in the fight against the spread of the diseases.
After the global outbreak of this pandemic, many new technological solutions that help in combating the COVID-19 virus have emerged. Existing and unused technological solutions have also been tested and are being utilised for treating and monitoring patients.
Governments and institutions are seeking help from big tech companies to invent various ways to control the outbreak. For instance, WHO partnered with Facebook and developed a Whatsapp channel that interacts with users. China has developed a tracking app in collaboration with Alibaba. Kenya is partnering with Google to provide 4G internet access for all during this period.
This is not to mention the many companies working on tech solutions, such as SpaceX, and many like it, that are 3D printing medical equipment such as valves for ventilators. Further, urgent funding calls are coming from governments and private multinational institutions ready to finance tech solutions.
We can already see the success and effectiveness of such tech solutions. The main reasons South Korea is succeeding in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and has managed to mitigate its causalities is this very same reason, the harnessing of technology in the fight against a pandemic, according to Jerome H. Kim, director-general of the International Institute for Vaccines.
Mechanisms that assist in testing, identifying and isolating patients are employed in South Korea successfully, according to him. He points out that the robust biotech startups in the country helped the Koreans to develop enough test kits in a short period, while other countries - even advanced ones such as the United States - are still struggling to develop sufficient testing kits. They have also used tools to track and map infected patients to control the spread.
Ethiopians have also understood the role of technology, with volunteers establishing Ethiopia’s COVID-19 response task force community aimed at developing tech solutions to combat the virus. The government has also established a special team to look into various technology solutions. We should all contribute to this initiative now, from suggesting ideas to developing the tools ourselves. Those with capital should also invest in short-term, as well as long-term, tech solutions for the health system.
It is inevitable that there will be a global economic downturn affecting all of us. The health sector will, however, be improved in ways that will help humankind survive the next pandemic. Technology will remain the key solution and will be utilised by all countries regardless of the type of political system. If this pandemic will leave behind anything positive, it will be the funding and innovation to come to the health sector from both the public as well as the private sector.
Despite all the uncertainties, it is better to have optimism and trust in humankind to survive this and learn from it. Let us keep washing our hands and remember that we will get through this together.
PUBLISHED ON Mar 28,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1039]
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