The innovation map during the pandemic has more than 500 initiatives ranging from technological solutions for tracking infections to rapid diagnostic kits. Credit: Science Photo.

  • Innovation

The third way to get out of the pandemic

COVID-19 has brought together institutions, companies, scientists and even hackers in the development of initiatives for managing the pandemic and controlling infections. These ideas seek in innovation solutions that allow protecting both the health of citizens and the economy.

The innovation map during the pandemic has more than 500 initiatives ranging from technological solutions for tracking infections to rapid diagnostic kits. Credit: Science Photo.


The pandemic generated by COVID-19 disease has placed society in a dichotomy that has never been so extreme and far-reaching. Economist Pierre Azoulay told the MIT Technology Review that innovation is the only way to avoid having to decide between protecting public health and the economy.

Following this philosophy of innovation for progress, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Hackster, a community of open source developers, have mobilized large Silicon Valley companies to launch the "COVID-19 Detect & Protect" challenge. This global competition aimed at developers, scientists and hackers seeks to identify innovative and easy-to-produce solutions to improve the management of the pandemic. A wide range of proposals exists, including tools such as computer-connected thermometers to track possible infections, body temperature maps in the cloud, and health protection equipment to be printed at home in 3D, among many others.

Among the innovative initiatives, the use of 3D printing of sanitary protection equipment, such as the MYSPACE transparent helmet from the Italian company WASP, stands out. Credit: WASP.

An innovation map during the pandemic

Locating and aggregating the ideas that emerge during this crisis is the goal of the Health Innovation Exchange (a UN initiative to fight against AIDS) and the start-up Blink, the developers of an innovation map that already has more than 500 initiatives worldwide. Some examples of this directory of innovations to strengthen the response to COVID-19 are the Track Virus application, in use in Israel to pinpoint where the virus is spreading from, or a diagnostic kit that can produce results in less than half an hour, a project of the biotech company E25Bio and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Without a clear roadmap for dealing with the pandemic by preventing outbreaks, success stories from certain countries can also serve as a compass for proposing new solutions. In Taiwan and Singapore, many institutions already had organizational plans in place for a potential pandemic. Other countries such as South Korea, with its well-established network of innovative tech companies, have from the start taken advantage of the potential of technologies in widespread use among the population, such as Big Data, geolocation or Bluetooth, to track transmission vectors and warn of potential infections. This country has also promoted the development of tests based on technologies ranging from the extraction of genetic material available in different parts of the body to the obtention of results in real time to avoid overburdening testing laboratories.

On the other hand, in Europe, the Institute for Innovation and Digital Transformation (EIT Digital) brings together initiatives that place special emphasis on enhancing the opportunities of digitization to curb the spread of COVID-19. Monitoring systems (for medical tracking and geolocation of infected people) are operating in Iceland, which uses the SidekickHealth patient tracking model, or Norway, which has implemented the OpenTeleHealth online healthcare system.

These innovative proposals are already transforming healthcare facilities, with proposals such as intelligent super-insulation tents built with anti-bacterial materials. Credit: Modula S.

Reinventing medical assistance and healthcare facilities

The innovation in emergency medical care is embodied in the proposal to create emergency treatment units (ETUs). These modular treatment units (inherited from the fight against Ebola) are rapidly deployable and use highly efficient insulation wrap technology, which allows for temperature regulation and simplifies decontamination efforts. This intelligent super-insulation tent is built with anti-bacterial materials and lasts 25 years, as well as working autonomously with solar energy.

Conventional hospitals also rely on innovation to enhance safety measures. For example, the United Nations Investment and Technology Promotion Office and the company White Rhino Auto have put several unmanned vehicles into service at Wuhan Hospital to avoid human contact when transporting medical supplies, food or deliveries of urgent materials.

But innovation in health care also looks beyond the immediate present. While we wait anxiously for a COVID-19 vaccine to arrive, solutions are already being studied to ensure its correct preservation, such as fitting out vaccine storage facilities with passive solar technology, thereby avoiding the risk that an electrical failure could break the vaccine cold chain. Traces of innovation will undoubtedly remain in the DNA of all industries after this tremendous global effort to stay one step ahead of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.

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