How can technology help prevent the next pandemic?

How can technology help prevent the next pandemic?

How is it possible, when we are surrounded by a plethora of fantastic technological tools (artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, various smart applications), that governments seem unable to deal with the situation in the most effective way – for more than a year? 

Technology allows us to collect more data, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it gets us closer to the truth. Algorithms that analyze vast amounts of data can potentially distort what we see, create inequality, and even mislead us with “alternative facts.” 

In the first phase of the pandemic, the lack of reliable data was a persistent problem. Not only because of distortions and scare stories but also because of the proliferation of different voices and data sources. One of the greatest needs for governments, organizations, and society was to have a reliable and robust information transmission system based on common standards. 

Blockchain technology could have provided a solution. The unalterable and transparent storage of data could have been a half-success in developing the strategy going forward.

How do you say?

Ignorance of the law excuses no one.

In the present case, we can rightly criticize those who have emphasized the responsibility of the individual in containing the virus and have run amok in the name of stopping it, making the violation of our privacy rights seem legitimate:

Ignorance of the technology cannot constitute an excuse.

With a few exceptions, collective solidarity has been one of the driving forces behind the crisis. From the very beginning, companies and individuals made generous donations to meet the challenge. With supply chains at risk and the pressing needs of health workers, blockchain can offer new and valuable solutions. Platforms such as Shanzong in China track the origin of donations and guarantee every step of the way until they reach their recipients.  

Medical technology has a significant role in preventing the next pandemic and could even help fight the current one.

The reality is that pandemics have occurred regularly over the past 20 years (SARS in 2002-03, H5N1 avian influenza in 2006-07, H1N1 swine flu in 2009, MERS in 2012-15), and leading health experts say we can expect more in the near future.

The irony is that today’s technology can facilitate local outbreaks to become pandemics. Modern air travel, which has flown disease carriers from one continent to another in a matter of hours, has made the rapid spread of COVID-19 inevitable. In fact, the first line of defense – containment – never stood a chance.

But what about the advantages of modern technology in the fight against COVID-19, namely modern medical hardware and software? Where was medical technology in the fight against the epidemic?

As it turns out, the tools to fight epidemics are right under our noses. Medical technology to prevent the spread of future infectious pathogens and even fight the current epidemic already exists. 

Each of the four technologies below has all the essential capabilities to confront the enemy and, if not defeat it, seriously reduce the damage.

Big Data

Data analytics are already being used by various health surveillance bodies, the World Health Organization, and other agencies to track COVID-19 cases.

For example, data from Google can be used to model the spread of the virus. But what does Google have to do with it, you might ask? Well, Google gets relevant data on potential outbreaks before anyone else.

Think about it. When a group of people in a particular location search for information on flu symptoms in large numbers, it is a real-time indication that a specific location may be on the verge of an outbreak. This is the power of mass data.

But at present, this data is strictly the responsibility of governments and institutions. What if we democratized the data and allowed everyone to benefit from predictive analytics?

Google’s near-global monopoly in the internet search industry means that anyone with a laptop and a wireless internet connection could create a Google search specific to their neighborhood or even their block.

What if this data were made public to see which areas are better avoided for more effective prevention? So we would have accurate data to make informed decisions.

Telemedicine

With the advent of the pandemic, hospitals closed their doors to visitors. This makes perfect sense, as they need to protect those insides from outside pathogens and those who might enter (after all, hospitals are essentially buildings full of sick people, with air circulating through the same system).

But what if a patient needs, say, a specialist?

This is where telemedicine allows someone to be ‘present’ without actually being there.

The specialist can interact remotely with the patient and other doctors via a monitor in the patient’s room. The specialist – who can be thousands of kilometers away – can interpret the data at the bedside. Specialized hardware and software ensure that the patient’s electronic medical records are protected at all times and provide the bandwidth needed to move the huge image files and large data sets required for medical diagnostics.

Smartphones

The term “smartphone” is the biggest misnomer since “life insurance.”

A handheld device is a miniature version of a powerful mainframe computer that also happens to make and receive phone calls and text messages. It is also a potentially powerful diagnostic tool.

What if, instead of waiting for a hospital to determine whether we might have COVID-19 symptoms, we could use our smartphone for self-diagnosis? There are currently apps that can determine our body temperature, breathing rate, and lung volume – all key biometrics used to diagnose the virus. If the readings indicate a likelihood of infection, this data would immediately direct us to the nearest point of care. This (also) reduces the overload on healthcare facilities.

By sending the self-diagnosed data to a central database or even to a blockchain, nurses could be alerted to which patients need immediate care or isolation.

AI (Artificial Intelligence) robots

In the movie “Infection,” John Hawkes plays a janitor who cleans hospital rooms where patients have been infected in the epidemic. While the doctors and nurses wear protective gear, his character does his job unprotected.

It is pure Hollywood fiction. For the people in charge of cleaning up facilities during a pandemic, the danger is severe and frighteningly real.

But what if people were not supposed to be involved in the process at all? Hospitals on the front line of COVID-19 would be equipped with robots that use ultraviolet light to disinfect.

The advantage of UV light over liquid chemicals like disinfectants is that UV can clean not only hard surfaces but also the air.

In Korea, they are experimenting with a technology in which a fleet of 80 drones, working in perfect harmony, use UV light to disinfect sites such as a stadium.

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