History has shown that catastrophic events frequently lead to innovations in terms of healthcare. For example, World War II proved to be crucial in the treatment of burns. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a similar impact on healthcare technology. It has accelerated emerging trends, and led to the creation of other initiatives that are set to have a dramatic impact on the way healthcare is provided worldwide.
Compared to previous epidemics such as SARS, ÅIDS and influenza, the speed at which Covid-19 spread globally was perhaps the biggest shock. No one had expected such global transmission within just a matter of weeks, nor the sheer strength of the virus and the way it ripped through communities. The risk of healthcare organisations being overwhelmed was all too apparent, and that risk continues in areas where vaccination is still low.
Africa is often dubbed the ‘testing ground’ of new technology and the pandemic has provided an opportunity to re-imagine solutions to the challenges posed by Covid-19. Yasmin Sheikhdon, COO of Samawat, believes that Covid has encouraged the growth of innovation, universal access and better employment. Samawat Energy in Somalia is just one of those innovative companies given new prominence as a result of the pandemic. It is a new platform linking digital health technology with solar energy.
As a result, health care workers were able to go out to rural off-grid communities and provide a much wider range of health care using smartphones and on-the-go solar backpacks complete with Bluetooth enabled medical devices capable of collecting and storing patient data as well as accessing information. It has resulted in a coordinated resilient medical system using solar power links, enabling health workers to deal not just with Covid, but also target other long term concerns such as polio, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, and AIDS allowing them to be treated much more efficiently.
Another way that technology is revolutionising healthcare is through improving accessibility. Around half of the world’s population still does not receive the healthcare services they need. Companies like Dhani, founded by Sameer Gehlaut, provide digital consultations with doctors and online access to medicines through their app, reaching millions of people. Healthtech companies all over the world are helping to reach people in the most rural and remote locations and providing them with access to the services they need.
Finding accurate information can be difficult as there was is much disinformation around. A joint venture between the South African government, WhatsApp and Praekelt, a South African mobile technology non-profit organisation, devised the perfect answer in the form of an interactive chatbot that could respond to questions about Covid-19.
Initially available in various languages catering to the diverse population of South Africa, it empowered citizens and officials allowing them to find the precise information being sought and enabled appropriate measures to be taken fast. It was popular and successful. The success of the chatbot did not go unnoticed as the WHO has now adopted the technology for its own global initiative, Health Alert, to serve people and governments worldwide.
According to Praekelt, in the first eight weeks of Health Alert being provided, 12.2m unique users exchanged 117m messages. It is now available in 15 languages and is regarded as having the potential to reach over two billion people.
Decreasing viral transmission has been the aim of UK-based Akhand Armour, which used technology to devise a virus destroying eco-system incorporated into textiles that can be used for face masks, shopping bags, mobile phone bags, and baby changing mats. As soon as infected droplets land on the treated products, the outer wall of the coronavirus is destroyed, rending it useless and unable to infect people.
As Akhand Armour’s Mandeep Hanspal explains, users become human ‘sanitising shields’ automatically neutralising the virus as they walk through the community. The technology has been independently tested by MSL Labs, confirming its effectiveness against the virus as well as a host of other microbes and bacteria, providing long term effectiveness and helping keep communities healthy.
One of the biggest problems for many health services has been the provision of pop up health centres, especially when a sterile environment is required. The pandemic has shown that existing facilities can quickly become overwhelmed. Ogelworld’s innovative solution not only provides pop up sterile unit pods but also helps solve the problem of the mountains of plastic waste created by modern society.
Ogelworld turns plastic waste such as car part linings, Expanded polystyrene, linings from fridges and freezers and turns them into granules which are then used to construct extremely strong plastic blocks. Each pod reuses around 400kgs of waste.
Ogelworld is the only company worldwide able to offer a build on-site solution customised to exact medical needs using structural plastic blocks to create a large pod. The walls of the pod can be coated with an anti-microbial coating to create a sterile environment. Appearing on Dragons Den, Ogelworld quickly obtained investment and assistance from two dragons, Teij Lavani and Sara Davies. The opportunities presented by the technology are immense as quite apart from the potential medical uses, the blocks can be used to create flood barriers, work pods and garden rooms.
As with other historical nightmare scenarios, the Covid-19 pandemic has proved a challenge for society, and out of a difficult situation, there have been major improvements in healthcare technology that will have long-lasting benefits for everyone.