The Covid19 pandemic has given us all a wakeup call. Speedy, efficient action is needed to contain outbreaks of disease, and technology helps to solve many of the problems the world faces should such a disaster befall us again. Frustratingly, many of these technologies already existed at the outset of the outbreak which the UN cautiously declares may nearly be over. In this article we look at the tools that may help us to cope better with infectious disease outbreaks in future.
1. Vaccine Delivery Management Tools
Managing vaccine delivery requires complex workflows spread over a wide geographical area. It’s an operation that was undertaken on an unprecedented scale and facilitating this process could save lives. With this in mind, NHS Scotland partnered with a tech company to develop a vaccine management system that will fast-track its response to future public health threats. It’s a solution that can benefit any healthcare authority around the world, directing resources and initiating workflow in order to achieve the best possible response times.
2. Artificial Intelligence to Model The Spread of Diseases
Knowing where a contagion will strike next allows healthcare authorities to prepare a response targeting the most likely areas in which outbreaks occur. During 2019 and 2020, the EU used artificial intelligence that was able to map the spread of coronavirus, accurately predicting where it was likely to appear next. This early warning system helped authorities to divert resources and prepare facilities for the coming influx of patients.
3. Open-Source Technologies
Being able to share data rapidly is important in the event of a pandemic. During the pandemic, organisations like the World Health Organisation used open-source technologies to promote data sharing and international cooperation. Bottom-up initiatives also contributed their share, for example, in providing the information needed to produce much-needed ventilators and PPE.
4. Telehealth Platforms
With medical facilities on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic, keeping patients with milder complaints away from healthcare facilities became a priority. Even among people who had been infected, relatively few needed inpatient care. In countries around the world, the public was advised to stay at home and self-quarantine unless faced with severe symptoms. Providing the needed support remotely means using telehealth platforms to inform and advise those who have become ill, but do not have severe symptoms.
During an outbreak of an infectious disease, disinfection of contaminated areas places personnel at risk. And, while infected patients who are staying at home need contactless delivery of food and medicine, those in inaccessible rural areas also need delivery of vaccines and medicines. Drones offer a workable solution to these problems. Beyond that, the enforcement of quarantine measures presented a challenge, and in China, the government used drones to monitor compliance, directing law enforcement to targeted areas.
Emerging Technologies Under Development
While the five technologies so far discussed are ready for deployment, the EU has earmarked several emerging technologies for development. These include robots, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and gene editing technologies. With continued focus, it seems likely that further advances in these areas will help to equip us to better deal with future worldwide health crises