COVID-19 has confirmed the crucial importance of sustainable healthcare systems and technologies, as we fight the first major pandemic of our century. Although science, technology and innovation have been challenged during this pandemic, each is playing a vital role in how countries tackle the spread of the coronavirus and prepare for new outbreaks.
Systems for the faster development of tests, vaccines, and pharmaceuticals have been made possible by intense collaboration among countries and coordination by the World Health Organization. The use of telemedicine and other communication technologies has been instrumental in making health systems more responsive and productive during critical pandemic phases. The integration of mathematical sciences in the prediction and modelling of essential elements is proving to be a valuable resource for health sector authorities and managers to make rapid and precise decisions. Access to off-grid decentralised renewable power is crucial in mitigating the human catastrophe and speeding up the global recovery process, especially in developing countries.
Different technological innovations are helping the world fight against COVID-19. At the same time, we need to reflect on the legal plausibility, ethical soundness and effectiveness of deploying emerging technologies under time pressure. It is clear that striking the right balance is crucial for maintaining public trust in evidence-based public health interventions.
Major technology clusters for COVID-19 prevention and treatment
The ability to identify, develop, and produce the necessary tools to strengthen preparedness, prevent infections, and treat patients is critical to control the current COVID-19 pandemic. These tools include diagnostic testing, vaccines, respirators, intensive therapy units, robots, big data and artificial intelligence.
International, national and local authorities, private companies, and civil society organisations took up the challenge and built alliances to intensify the research and development needed to face this unprecedented crisis.
Digital technologies and social technologies for pandemic control
During the pandemic, social technologies associated with digital tools became essential to the implementation of Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs). Partnership between communities and scientists developed several initiatives, focused on increasing the protection of vulnerable populations as well as establishing innovative methodologies, associating geoprocessing, big data and social cartography, to implement active surveillance of COVID-19.
At the same time, health professionals used telehealth, robotics, and artificial intelligence tools to reach out to patients at home, or in the isolation areas of the hospitals. The use of such technologies enabled them to reach out to distant communities and save precious resources.
STI roadmaps as a tool to build resilience to future health crises
The mitigation and prevention of the effects of pandemics and other health crises depend on the preparedness of health systems and society in general. From the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has learned that Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) can and is playing a fundamental role in identifying and preventing damage and controlling the problem.
STI roadmaps for the SDGs are an essential tool to increase countries’ ability to respond to these situations. A series of activities have been developed in partnership with the UN Technological Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) and some countries, to test a methodology that will help establish or improve national and international STI capacity.