How is technology helping through this pandemic crisis?

How is technology helping through this global pandemic? A conference called ‘Tech Cares’ put together a panel of leading technology and health officials, asking what they are doing to spur innovation in the digital domain. The first topic was AIDS, and it was noted that while research and development is essential to stopping the pandemic, there has been a lack of cooperation across many areas of the field. AIDS may be a wake-up call for governments and other organizations, as it demonstrates the need for an integrated approach to combating the disease, according to panelists. There has been much less technological innovation in areas like water safety and clean energy, despite calls from various high officials to develop more sustainable models.


Rapid improvements in technology and science have helped across borders, especially through the adoption of new technologies and the creation of partnerships. The HIV/AIDS pandemic made international cooperation even more necessary, panelists said, as a sign of hope that people were no longer willing to accept an ineffective and untested medication regimen. Other diseases, like the Meningitis outbreak in China and the SARS outbreak in Canada, also serve as a wake-up call to action. In China, the creation of a rapid response system to handle outbreaks brought forward both public and private sectors, panelists noted. This technology facilitation mechanism has been used successfully in other cases as well, such as dealing with the swine flu in China and controlling food shortages in sub-Saharan Africa.


The discussion also covered issues such as climate change, with panelists citing a lack of ambition among global leaders on pursuing a goal to keep temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. Negotiations to reach this goal have so far resulted in national emission cuts averaging about 20 percent. However, progress has been slow, despite high-profile promises by individual countries. The World Wildlife Fund recently declared that it will not raise its annual funds until there is greater political will to address climate change. Political will, after all, is lacking, despite the fact that more than two hundred major nations have already committed to collectively curb emissions.


Another topic brought up during the panel discussion was the impact of the rapidly spreading Chinese Industrial Revolution on the developing countries in the South Pacific. The panelists agreed that increasing prosperity had led to political liberalization throughout Asia, with the resulting emergence of multiracial societies that were often characterized by high levels of corruption and nepotism. The rapid spread of Chinese industry, panelists suggested, had led to the decline of corruption and liberalization, opening the door for greater economic opportunity. However, some panelists suggested that while the Chinese economic model had advanced the South Pacific could follow suit. Others suggested that Asian governments should seek to emulate the efficiencies of their Asian counterparts, with the possible added pressure from China.


Panelists also debated the merits of a participatory approach versus a top-down initiative, arguing that an integrated approach, involving national, regional, and global stakeholders, could play a greater role in combating the pandemic. For example, a high-level global representative could set up a group of nations at an annual summit meeting, to coordinate policies in the face of a new outbreak, as well as promote consensus building on key issues. Such an initiative could become a pivotal partner in dealing with the emerging global health challenge. Alternatively, a high-level global representative could spearhead a project based program addressing key issues in developing countries.


During the discussion on the sidelines, a Russian Federation delegate raised the question: “Is science a weapon in the hands of the powerful? Russia is now in the forefront of fighting against this pandemic, but are they prepared for all contingencies? In other words, is Russia prepared to be a first-rate science partner, first in fighting the pandemic and second in providing scientific research opportunities?” The panel responded by affirming their belief that a country’s level of capability when it comes to fighting disease and solving problems is an essential factor to any long-term strategy.


Finland’s delegate argued that while Finland has always prided itself on its “innovation culture,” it only recently realized the importance and value of being able to tap the innovation potential of others. “We just realized that the ability to innovate is a key component to being successful in the crises we are facing,” he said. Similarly, the UK’s Global Skills Competition winning project manager emphasized that there is a real danger that advanced health care systems will not be ready to deal with unexpected pandemic. With the UK having invested heavily in its National Health Service (NHS), he concluded that “it is critical that we continue to invest in our NHS.” While it may not always seem like a winning argument, this delegate suggested that the UK should look to other countries for assistance, citing China as an example of how advanced countries can help tackle a particular pandemic.


Another member of the panel who is based in New York, spoke of how there was an urgent need for innovation in combating the pandemic because the public health system simply wasn’t ready. She went on to highlight the social programmes that have sprung up in response to the problem. For instance, she noted that in the Russian town of Irkutsk, the head of the public health department is wearing an Apple iPhone to access the latest information on the outbreak. The implications for such a scenario were clear, she added, noting that without the necessary social programmes, “a very big problem” would be faced.

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