• Johannes Van Heerden

Technological Developments in the Fight Against Covid-19

Updated: Jan 8

The sudden emergence and rapid spread of the Novel Coronavirus, now known as Covid-19, is a reminder of the power of infectious diseases. It has hit the world by storm, forcing many countries to initiate national lockdowns in order to prevent their health systems from being overwhelmed. Fortunately, the world has learnt a lot from previous epidemics such as Ebola, SARS and HIV, and medical equipment and research has progressed leaps and bounds since then. The Coronavirus also offers some advantages by providing insights into how innovation and technology are better equipping us to handle public health emergencies and contain the spread of diseases.

SARS first broke out in late 2002. It took scientists more than a year to sequence the genome of the virus. From what was learned, scientists were able to sequence the genome of Covid-19 in less than a month after the first case was identified. Similarly, researchers developed the first diagnostic test straight after the first public announcement was made regarding the virus. Veredus Laboratories in Singapore has said the company will soon release a “Lab-on-Chip” detection kit that can be purchased commercially. It will allow patients to be tested for three kinds of coronavirus within two hours.

The exponential growth of connectivity — and the access to the wealth of data it offers — allows health officials to quickly track the spread of disease, giving vulnerable populations vital information. Facebook has generated maps that display population density, demographics, and travel patterns, enabling researchers to decide where to send supplies or how to mitigate an outbreak. Similarly, Facebook, Google, and Twitter are working to identify and eliminate misinformation about the coronavirus, directing users to reliable sources at the CDC and WHO.

Technology has helped patients diagnosed with covid-19 to continue with their lives while in quarantine. Video calls and applications like Microsoft Teams, Skype and Google Classroom enable patients to communicate with others, submit work and access information in a manner unlike ever before, preventing them from feeling alienated and forgotten. This provides the positive impact of improving the general mood of patients, leading to easier and faster recovery rates.

The use of AI (artificial intelligence) has also assisted the medical industry tremendously. Metabiota, a health tech company, offered early and accurate analysis about the spread of Covid-19, predicting it would reach South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan one week before it was reported inside their borders. In years past, researchers used AI to predict Zika outbreaks and to trace the insects that spread Chagas disease. By helping track and contain the spread of the disease, these technologies may someday stop epidemics before they cross borders.

Robots and drones are recent additions that have also been aiding the healthcare industry. They help by delivering vital medical supplies faster than ever before. Remote, rural communities can now be accessed far easier and the use of vehicles and drones allow faster movement than ambulances in crowded, urban areas. All of these factors contribute to medicine arriving faster at the patient’s doorstep without them having to travel, saving countless lives.

These advances show the great things that can happen when medical expertise and technological innovationa are brought together. The coronavirus outbreak is one of many public health crises we will face in the coming decade. But with the right minds on the job and plenty of collaboration, we can create a world that’s up to the challenge of meeting these challenges.

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