By Nury Moreira, IET Healthcare Sector Lead
There is no set definition of a global pandemic, but there is a growing concern among doctors and healthcare practitioners that the world is amidst a COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the ongoing crisis, the world is experiencing unprecedented changes on what seems like a daily basis.
In the last few months, doctors, researchers, and scientists from all fields of knowledge across the world have joined hands to tackle the COVID-19 crisis with a remarkable spirit of collaboration. Although the genetic structure of the corona virus was broken down within a few weeks of its discovery, it wouldn’t have been possible without the help of both researchers and engineers.
Optical, mechanical, IT, electrical, and chemical engineers were all a part of this process. Another segment that engineers have played a significant role in is the scale-up of vaccines and medications. From 3D printing masks and manufacturing medical equipment to mechanical ventilators, the STEAM community has put in considerable efforts to fight the COVID-19 crisis.
When scientists and researchers are working on new vaccines, there is a huge part of engineering involved in it. For instance, manufacturing a billion doses from a mere 100 is a major engineering challenge. The same is applicable for manufacturing therapeutics. They have worked together tirelessly to maintain the integrity of the supply chain, including supplying masks to the destination and getting the right combination of chemicals to develop medications and vaccines.
The speed and extent of diagnostics tests for corona virus has improved significantly, and engineers have brought machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), process control, and automation to facilitate the development of those diagnostics and therapeutics. AI processes huge volumes of information to identify the possible routes to therapeutic discoveries. For instance, what medications could be given to prevent the antigens on the outside of the virus from entering the body’s cells?
These engineering tools have multiplied the testing capabilities for COVID-19. One of the major factors engineering brings is risk modeling. For instance, suppose you’re dependent on a particular precursor chemical to make a drug, and there’s a conflict between you and the primary source. Do you have a secondary source? Or, what happens if you’re developing therapeutics or medications, and there’s a three-day mandate on shipping, or the airport is closed? You should have the ability to adjust or come up with another solution. Hence, wireless communication, Zoom, broadband, 5G, and other platforms have become indispensable during the ongoing pandemic.
Besides, while there have been several healthcare institutions and engineers that have hacked robots to develop ventilators for critically ill patients, there are others who have contributed to improving patients’ health: Robotic doctors. A team of researchers and engineers from the Chulalongkorn University have unveiled three telemedicine robots that can facilitate patient-doctor relationships without the interference of human doctors. These robots have been used by medical practitioners to effectively communicate with COVID-19 patients remotely.
These robots were initially built to look after patients that were recovering from diseases, but they are now being used to help doctors provide medical care during a time when strict quarantine and isolation are required. These robots not only help maintain a distance between doctor and patient, but they also help healthcare staff effectively and easily communicate with multiple patients.
Global collaborative efforts in scientific research should become the standard and not the exception. At present, the corona virus pandemic has not only increased our expectations of science but has also emphasized the fact that global challenges require global solutions.
We must all face the challenges with firm unity to fight against the pandemic in order to come up with a solution to fix unresolved crises such as climate change. These are challenges that pose solid threats to humanity and will remain with us well after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Share your thoughts
COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the ability of engineers to collaborate with patients and the culture of engaging with patients has changed. Learn more through our podcast episode ‘Putting the patient in the middle – part 2’.
We are also interested in your thoughts and experiences of how COVID-19 has impacted the ability of engineers to collaborate in both negative and positive ways. Log in to your online community account to leave your comments below.