Necessity is the mother of invention, so the saying goes. And no event or incident has illustrated this than the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Amidst the calamity and uncertainty brought on the global population by the virus, there are those around us who’ve refused to be put down by the prevailing situation, instead choosing to use their ingenuity to help curb the spread of the virus.
The solutions they’ve have developed range from the basic and rudimentary to the more technical and advanced, but they all have been invented and developed with one goal in mind: to help curb the spread of Covid-19 by use of technology and innovation.
Starting from here at home, there was Stephen Wamukota, the 9-year-old from Bungoma County who made a wooden hand-washing machine to help curb the spread of coronavirus, feat that later earned him a presidential award. Stephen, who wants to be an engineer in future, was among 68 Kenyans honoured with the Presidential Order of Service, Uzalendo (Patriotic) Award in mid last year.
(TOP: Stephen Wamukota with his hand-washing machine. Photo: BBC).
In the spirit of collaboration, Google and Apple in June 2020 announced a joint effort to enable the interoperability and use of Bluetooth technology to help governments and health agencies reduce the spread of the virus, with user privacy and security central to the design. The initiative was born out of the fact that Android and iOS device users can’t connect to each other (or transfer files) via Bluetooth.
Because Covid-19 is transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health organizations identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. To support this effort, Apple and Google therefore developed a solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. The plan was implemented in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.
Towards the end of March last year, Ventures Platform and Lagos State Science and Research and Innovation Council (LASRIC) organized the #COVID19InnovationChallenge, inviting tech innovators and startups to develop solutions to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria.
At the end of the contest, seven startups were chosen from over 500 applicants who submitted applications over 6 days. The final seven are:
- Wale Adeosun – Wellvis Health offers solutions that promote primary care; by improving the health of the public through continuous access to personalized health information.
- Joel Ogunsola – Prunedge a technology company that develops innovative solutions to improve the efficiency of processes, the livelihood of people and aid decision making within organizations.
- Nestor Inimgba – Infodemics uses existing social hierarchies in a community to efficiently and effectively communicate health risks.
- Ikpeme Neto – Wellahealth a digital triage bot that provides guidance based on Nigeria Centre for Disease Control guidelines and logs responses for follow up by public health as needed.
- Mayowa Ayodeji – MyServiceAgent an AI-powered intelligent IVR system that can communicate with 100s to 1000s of callers simultaneously and intelligently and disseminate correct information from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control as well as pass on the data to the NCDC to act on swiftly.
- Okorie Tochukwu – Innover Technologies is committed to using technology to solve problems. Their solution for the project is named COVID-19 Nigeria.
- Abiri Oluwatosin Niyi – CmapIT Analytics a GIS and Data Visualization software that helps to analyze geospatial data and its variables and also visualize it; data variables concerning the coronavirus outbreak and how it can be tracked and visualized so that predictions are accurate.
Outside the continent as well, young people have been developing new technologies to help in the fight against virus, coming up with various innovations including low-cost ventilators, 3D-printed medical supplies and shipping containers repurposed as ICU wards.
According to WeForum, the innovations range from 3D-printed face shields to an AI-powered app that can triage at-risk patients. Some of the inventions are highlighted below:
- Barcelona Huband Javier Garcia Martinez have produced a scalable artificial ventilator to ease pressure on hospitals amid acute shortages. The device uses certified parts that are readily available in medical facilities and online stores, and meets all medical regulations in Spain. The team behind the project, Open Ventilator, has produced eight prototypes and procured funding to develop 25 additional devices.
- Madrid Hubis 3D printing face shields, respiratory filters and automatic respirators for some of the hardest-hit hospitals in the world. In order to amplify their work, the team joined Coronavirus Makers, a community of more than 17,000 young scientists, engineers and designers using their skills to help end the shortage of life-saving equipment in Spain.
- Boston Hubis supporting the Gaza Hub in printing 3D equipment for frontline medical workers in a city under-equipped to respond to the pandemic, given the weakness of its health infrastructure after decades of conflict. The team printed 1,000 face shields, 50 goggles and 20 ventilator pieces to support local responses in Gaza.
- Emma Greer from the Milan Hub, through a project called CURA (Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments), repurposed shipping containers into ICU beds. The first container was deployed in Turin.
- Cameron Sinclair and his team at Jupe Healthlaunched a venture to deploy medical shelters for use by three different groups: mentally and physically exhausted healthcare workers, as well as ICU patients who are either critically ill or whose symptoms are not life-threatening. The mobile spaces are produced at 1/30th the cost of standard hospital rooms, and can be shipped anywhere using existing logistics infrastructure.
- Andres Simon Gonzalez-Silen, together with a team of Venezuelan doctors, developed Telesalud COVID-19, a free digital telemedicine solution. The platform provides virtual health services including remote consultations and monitoring between doctors and patients, with the aim of decongesting already fragile health systems weakened by the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Since its inception, Telesalud COVID-19 has supported over 80,000 Venezuelans abroad, completing more than 25,000 tests and referring 1,150 high-risk patients to local hospitals.
- Zebra Medical Vision, led by Eyal Gura, created a scalable, AI-driven method for tracking the spread of COVID-19. The solution, coupled with a machine-learning algorithm, analyzes CT scans to detect the lung capacity of patients in order to better predict their recovery. When equipment is in dire supply, this technology supports patient triage, based on proven disease progression.