Science, technology and innovation in the era of a pandemic
Amidst the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic, science, technology and innovation have played essential and influential roles by responding to the crisis with a range of solutions, targeting various challenges and accelerating the global recovery. Thus, the pandemic has sparked serious discussion about how ecosystems can upgrade these three critical levers and focus on building a resilient future for our economies and societies.
At the beginning of the epidemic, there was an urgent need to develop effective diagnostics, therapeutic interventions and vaccines against the virus. In less than a year, scientists have been able to develop effective vaccines, compared to the usual decade-long efforts to develop vaccines for other diseases. The scientific community has benefited from existing research and technologies in the areas of infectious diseases and vaccines, such as the messenger RNA technology that pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Moderna use in their vaccines.
Thanks to the collective and collaborative efforts of many governments, private sector actors and philanthropists, billions of dollars have been directed to discovering, manufacturing and distributing medical solutions. For example, the US National Institutes of Health has received and invested $4.9 billion in critical research on diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines.
On the other hand, the European Commission, for many years, has invested heavily in scientific research and innovation to address global health challenges and prepare for pandemics. Between 2007 and 2019, it allocated 4.1 billion euros ($4.4 billion) to research into infectious diseases. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission has pledged an additional €1 billion for coronavirus research to focus on important areas such as diagnosis, treatment, vaccines and outbreak preparedness.
The adoption of technological solutions associated with social distancing measures has reduced the rate of transmission of the virus and reduced economic and social costs. A large number of successful endeavors were made during the first few months of the epidemic. For example, many public services have been digitalised, enabling people to manipulate and make use of their services online. Retailers forced to close physical locations during the closures were able to stay afloat by transitioning to e-commerce. Schools and universities have transformed their entire learning environment online and continue to provide classrooms, digital resources, libraries, and online support for parents. Companies have taken advantage of online collaboration tools to provide more flexible working arrangements for employees, especially those who were located in remote areas or had caring duties.
The adoption of technological innovations revolving around remote work has also inspired another set of online collaboration opportunities between various communities around the world. Many scientific conferences and research collaboration projects make use of Internet tools to advance scientific progress, discovery, and discussion among various actors.
The proliferation of open science and open data initiatives during the pandemic has led to the creation of virtual platforms that disseminate research from various sources around the world, serving as a kind of catalyst for further scientific collaboration and innovation based on updated learning in various fields. The WHO COVID-19 database is a prime example of the power of virtual science collaboration, where global scientific findings and knowledge about the virus are published daily.
Meanwhile, more and more reputed universities and training institutions are now offering online training programs and short courses for aspiring learners via digital platforms. Telehealth platforms have enabled medical workers to communicate with their patients online, regardless of geographic area. Within the dining settings, QR codes allow people to check out menu options on their phone, eliminating the need for physically printed menus. In the culture sector, museums, art galleries and opera houses have uploaded their creative content online to continue connecting with their audiences during lockdowns and travel restrictions.
The adoption of technological solutions has reduced the rate of transmission of the virus and reduced economic and social costs.
Furthermore, governments have recognized the importance of sharing pandemic-relevant scientific information with the public in a timely manner. These public health messages have created awareness of the nature of the virus and how to mitigate its transmission. In an earlier example, on the brink of the 2015 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in South Korea, the government was able to instill public confidence in the authorities by regularly sharing information about the virus.
At the heart of managing the COVID-19 pandemic were the various scientific advisory groups that were located in central government agencies, whose goal was to provide evidence-based solutions. For example, the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies is tasked with supporting government decision-makers during emergencies with an abundance of scientific and technical advice. Her insightful research papers have focused on situational analyzes, midterm projections, social and behavioral interventions, and variables of concern.
Going forward, we can stretch our imaginations far and wide thanks to the endless opportunities inherent in mobilizing our world for science, technology and innovation.
- Sarah Al Mulla is an Emirati employee interested in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at www.amorelicious.com.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ views