Robots are one group of workers on the frontline that have managed well though the pandemic. They are now recognised as an extremely valuable technology in the attempt to keep COVID-19 under control and look after those infected with the virus. These include things like the decontamination of hospitals and public spaces or delivering goods and services to patients.
The World Economic Forum reckons Covid-19 has been a robotic game changer and has released an article which explores the many duties robots are now being used for in the current circumstances: they can take patient temperatures and measure patient blood pressure and oxygen saturation. They are able to travel around a hospital and zap the virus with ultraviolet light. They may be sent out to deliver food to people quarantined in large hotels or, to send blood samples to labs.
They may also be enlisted in policing roles as drones to look out for stay-at-home violations, and they may automate the all-important public testing regimes that are supposed to support the track and trace phase in fighting the virus.
As a result of this, the forum thinks robots and their creators are carving out a valuable and permanent role for themselves as a preventative measure against future health crises.
Robotics were already on a growth spurt before the pandemic. ABI Research reports that last year,this area of technology won significant dollops of investment – a large amount of this was spent on acquisitions ($17.8 billion) with a further $29 billion in straight investment.
ABI states that most of this funding was steered towards autonomous passenger vehicles (APV’s), surgical robotics, and warehouse automation, with substantial growth for field robotics and drone services.
“Despite not having commercialized their technologies, autonomous passenger vehicle developers like Waymo, Cruise, Zoox and company have continued to amass enormous funding from the corporate and VC world,” said Rian Whitton, senior analyst at ABI Research. “Surgical robots also received huge funding, and have already been commercialized to a considerable extent, with Intuitive Surgical selling over 5,000 Da Vinci robot systems to date.”
The WEF points out that each disaster is different, but the experience of using robots for the COVID-19 pandemic, the article authors say, “presents an opportunity to finally learn three lessons documented over the past 20 years. One important lesson is that during a disaster, robots do not replace people. They either perform tasks that a person could not do or do safely, or take on tasks that free up responders to handle the increased workload.”
It mentions that the majority of robots being used to treat COVID-19 patients have not replaced health care professionals but are tele-operated, enabling health care workers to apply their expertise and compassion to sick and isolated patients remotely.
The authors say that given the ebb and flow of interest in robots for disaster relief, the best robots for a disaster are the robots, like those in these examples, which already exist in healthcare and public safety sectors.
The robots being designed now “to allow healthcare workers to remotely take blood samples and perform mouth swabs” probably won’t make a difference during this pandemic but might come into their own during the next one “if the momentum for robotics research continues.”
What Covid-19 means for future medical technology
Future medical technology is nowhere near floatation tubes or de-aging machines. What the world is seeing however, is a shift towards the seeds of technologies unearthed by the ongoing pandemic that could act as seeds for more radical innovations later on.
As some countries attempt to ease certain areas of the lockdown to pump some life blood into society for a while, everyone is once again looking to doctors and medical researchers for solutions. A second – possibly more mild – wave of the virus, however, is not out of the question. In fact, it might be inevitable in some areas, which means that these are sensitive times. Governments are then looking to tackle possible outbreaks of Covid-19 and any future ordeals preemptively having seen the consequences of unpreparedness.
The ongoing virus has spurred innovation in areas such as communication technology and green energy, and stimulated a more sincere awareness of public health and safety by individuals at large.
Future medical technology will be riding the telecom train, as improvements such as 5G are made for wireless communication. Faster more available connectivity will enable advancements to be made with medical devices, such as wearable and implantable technologies, sensors, and remote robotic surgery. Wearers and users of such devices will then require not only a sturdy connection, but its interconnectedness gives it further uses, in that of data collection and analysis.
With the spread of IoT products, the incorporation of cloud, and the advent of AI, came the vast amounts of data that are constantly being collected. Future medical technology will be interwoven with data webs.
This data can help doctors and researchers make valuable, actionable insights derived from millions of personality and clinical devices.
The wearer won’t get an ad for a mobile game playing into their hearing aid hopefully, but the devices are made to be able to do vital, possibly lifesaving actions.
Examples include administering insulin on schedule or with the push of a button on a smartphone, or predicting a heart failure by analyzing symptoms. Monitoring elderly or infants and keeping healthcare workers and relatives informed.
Such products can greatly increase the quality of life for thousands, and would decrease the cost of healthcare as it stands due to an increase in preventive care and preemptive treatment.
With the evolution and adaptability of human viruses, it is clear that we too must evolve alongside human technology. This makes not only collecting real-time data and using it to take action necessary, but it must be replicable and scalable too. With technologies like 3D printing becoming more popular, this can be achieved. Printing not only surgical tools and patient specific prosthetics and models, but tissues and organoids as well.
As medical technology develops, many questions are raised concerning reliability and security of such advancements. These are questions that will be answered as time goes on.
WHO Academy Launch Idea Gathering Platform
WHO Academy, the esteemed learning center scheduled to launch early next year, is set to amplify learning for impact through several digital and face to face courses, reaching millions of healthcare workers and others worldwide via the latest technologies and advancements in learning science.
As a fundamental part of their efforts, WHO Academy is working with skilled experts and practitioners to develop and implement a global learning strategy that will shape the future of WHO’s methods to training and learning for attaining health goals and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals
As part of WHO Academy’s wider consultation process with professionals in health, education and learning, and digital technologies, the WHO Academy would like to invite everyone with an interest in this topic to join their endeavor by sharing their ideas to the WHO’s learning strategy.
In accordance with that objective, WHO Academy have established a call for ideas in such a way so that anyone can share their big ideas on how to enhance and better the quality and impact of training and lifelong learning techniques in health.
WHO Academy have made the submission form available in 3 languages, English French and Spanish. The responses received will be used to develop their global learning strategy and will guarantee that those involved in health and social care systems have the right opportunities to strengthen the skill sets they need to save lives and improve outcomes in their respective communities.
Pandemic Disrupts Routine Immunization Services
As the pandemic continues spreading, the coronavirus is now disrupting lifesaving immunization services around the globe, and putting millions of children at risk of diseases like measles, diphtheria, and polio. This warning comes jointly from WHO the World Health Organization, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, and UNICEF. The warning came just before the Global Vaccine Summit is set to take place on June 4th, where leaders will unite in helping to maintain immunization programs and manage the impact of the pandemic in low income countries (LMICs).
Data collected by UNICEF, WHO, Gavi, and the Sabin Vaccine Institute indicate that the provisioning of routine immunization services is being substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and will impact approximately 80 million children under the age of 1.
Almost 53% of the 129 countries where the data was available have reported moderate-to-severe disruption in immunization services, or a total suspension of vaccination services during March and April 2020.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General said that immunization is the most powerful disease prevention tool in the history of public health. Disruption to immunization services due to the pandemic threatens decades of progress against certain vaccine preventable diseases.
The reasons due to the disruption of immunization services vary. Some parents are hesitant to leave the home due to restrictions on movement, lack of information or because they are afraid of infection. Many health workers are unavailable due to restrictions on travel, lack of protective equipment or redeployment to COVID response duties.
Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi mentioned that more children are now protected against more vaccine diseases than ever before in history. However due to the pandemic, this progress is now under great threat, risking the resurface of diseases like polio and measles. “Not only will the maintenance of immunization services prevent more outbreaks, it will also ensure we have the necessary infrastructure for an eventual coronavirus vaccine,” Berkley affirms.
Transport delays of vaccines are not helping the situation. UNICEF has reported a significant delay in planned vaccine deliveries due to the enforced lockdown and the decline in commercial flights. To help alleviate the situation, UNICEF is appealing to governments, the airline industry, the private sector and others so that they free up freight space at an affordable cost for these necessary vaccines. UNICEF and Gavi recently signed an agreement that provides advanced funding to cover the increased freight cost for the delivery of vaccines.
In the upcoming week, WHO will issue new advice to countries regarding maintaining essential services throughout the pandemic, including tips and recommendations on how to provide the immunizations safely.
Several countries have temporarily suspended preventive mass vaccination campaigns against measles meningitis, cholera, typhoid, yellow fever and polio, due to the risk of transmission and the need to keep physical distancing enforced during the pandemic.
In particular, polio and measles vaccination campaigns have been hard hit with measles campaigns being suspended in 27 countries and polio campaigns being put on hold in 38 different countries. An expected minimum of 24 million people in 21 Gavi-supported lower income countries risk missing out on the vaccines against polio, measles, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, rotavirus, meningitis A, HPV, and rubella due to the prolonged campaigns and the introduction of new vaccines.
Late in March, WHO recommended that countries temporarily suspend preventive campaigns, while they assess the risks and effective measures for reducing the virus transmission.
Since then, WHO have been monitoring the situation, and issued advice that aids countries in determining how and when to resume mass vaccination campaigns. The guide notes that countries will have to make specific risk assessments based on local dynamics of the virus transmission, health system capacities, and public health benefit of undergoing preventive response vaccination campaigns.
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