How can the world coordinate its medical response to COVID-19

Covid 19

The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed a number of terrifying systemic weaknesses at the heart of our everyday lives, none more so than within the world’s healthcare systems.

As governments introduce stricter measures to keep everyone indoors as a way to “flatten the curve”, there has been increased pressure for countries around the world to cooperate and collaborate on finding a way to reduce the spread and, ultimately, eradicate the virus.

However, many hospitals and health centres around the world are running low on, or out of, the equipment they need to give coronavirus patients adequate treatment, from ventilators to masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE). A number of companies and individuals are stepping up to try and meet this critical demand. Here are three ways that medical responses to the novel virus are being coordinated across the globe.

International support

Despite—or perhaps because of—the controversy surrounding the company’s use of nefarious software in their phones, Chinese tech giant Huawei has pledged a donation of PPE and other medical devices to Ireland, having already sent a shipment to Italy. This much-needed equipment will go some ways to alleviating the pressure on healthcare systems which are coming close to buckling under the strain of the virus.

Of course, with these products coming from overseas, it is critical that the medical professionals who use the equipment have a solid understanding of how they work. Even the smallest difference in usage between Huawei’s products and those more regularly used in that hospital could prove disastrous. Consequently, Huawei, any other manufacturer sending products overseas, will need to ensure that the instructions and packaging are all translated as accurately as possible. As linguistics agency Global Voices notes, technical translation is crucial in these circumstances, since “the sector operates on a global scale, so manufacturers need to be able to effectively communicate”.

Companies are diverting their resources

Whether through social media or in TV news debates, some of the fiercest criticism around Coronavirus response is being faced by super-rich owners of tech mega-companies for not putting some of their own wealth into offering relief. However, many of the companies in question are changing the focus of their services in order to better serve those in need. As TechCrunch notes, Amazon is shifting the focus of its warehouse stock to carry more essentials, as well as creating 100,000 warehouse jobs with a better rate of pay. Likewise, Apple is using its clout and resources to find or manufacture necessary equipment, as well as donating $15 million to the relief effort.

On 23rd March 2020, a so-called “High-Value Manufacturing Catapult” was announced, encompassing many major British car and aerospace engineering companies. With the development and production of almost all inessential machinery components being cancelled, these businesses are collaborating to develop new ways of creating ventilator parts for domestic use. Volkswagen has also announced the formation of a “task force” which could utilise 3D printers to create new hospital-grade ventilators. Meanwhile, in the United States, the federal government has lifted sales restrictionsimposed on companies such as 3M, allowing them to make and sell “tens of millions more protective masks” to hospital workers across the country.

3D printing

With hospitals quickly depleting their stock of equipment, many companies and individuals are taking measures into their own hands, seeking to provide assistance in meeting demand, in what one anaesthesia resident has dubbed a “worldwide hackathon”. This comes as part of an effort to, as MSNBC puts it, “crowdsource repairs and supplies of critical hospital equipment”, with individuals coordinating with each other via Google Docs and WhatsApp to determine the best materials and blueprints for the job.

Beyond creating new components, these collaborative brain trusts are also helping improve the efficiency of repairing any broken or faulty ventilator parts, with a centralised database of instruction and repair manuals also being established online. This saves crucial time and energy for not only the hospitals, but the ventilators’ original manufacturers too, as they will then be able to dedicate time to creating new machinery.