Is 'Emergency Innovation' Helping Emerging Nations in Their Fight Against the Virus?

Published on 09 Apr, 2020

Coronavirus is extremely contagious and has spread to over 150 countries across the world within a span of two months. Countries are adopting various macro-strategies to deal with the pandemic. Data shows that emerging countries have managed to deal with the epidemic more effectively than developed nations. While developed countries are using hi-tech technologies, emerging nations are taking recourse to ‘emergency innovations’.

Currently, the world is in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc and claimed thousands of lives. While doctors and healthcare practitioners are struggling to keep the increasing number of cases under check, researchers and medical scientists are working hard to come up with a vaccine against the virus.

Ironically, the virus has had a more devastating effect in developed countries than emerging nations. Though it originated in China, the epicenter moved to Europe and is now shifting to the US. There are various reasons for this:

  1. Late lockdown: Developed countries did not initiate lockdowns at an early stage as strictly as emerging countries.
  2. Biased cognitive intelligence: Developed nations were under the notion that their medical resources and healthcare staff could effectively handle the epidemic, if the virus spread.

There is a lesson hidden here. Misplaced confidence in their ability and resources prevented developed countries from coming up with an effective plan to deal with the threat.

Emerging countries, for whom such crises are not new, were much better prepared. Be it Ebola in Africa, SARS in China or the deadly influenza in India, they have learned the hard way to not take epidemics lightly. Hence, while developed nations are largely concentrating on testing techniques, developing nations are taking basic measures, such as social isolation, to thwart the disease. Given their vast population and low per capita income, this strategy works best.

Emerging/developing countries are using technology to contain the disease, identify (and isolate) the infected, and, consequently, deal as effectively as possible with the situation. Some examples are:

  • Vietnam is using mobile app to track locals and foreigners to monitor potentially infected individuals.
  • Thai immigration authorities are using the location data of people arriving in the country and conducting mass surveillance.
  • Israel is using a variety of new technologies to treat its infected citizens. One of the companies, RADLogics, is using AI-powered medical-image analysis solution to automatically and accurately detect and classify COVID-19 infection in chest CT scans of potentially infected patients.
  • Another Israeli medical device company, Biobeat, has designed a wearable vital sign monitor to continuously track, blood pressure, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, heart rate, temperature and other vitals in COVID-19 patients at home in a non-invasive manner.
  • India plans to convert 20,000 railway coaches into isolation centers. This could help in meeting demand if the number of infected people increases.
  • Indian hospitality service platform OYO rooms has offered isolation rooms for potentially infected patients with mild symptoms. Apollo Hospitals is also offering remote patient management platforms in these isolation rooms. The initiatives are aimed at building more isolation rooms, especially for less critical, yet infected patients.
  • India developed its own COVID-19 testing kit, Patho Detect, in just six weeks. The kit is a notch above imported ones as it gives diagnosis in two and a half hours, while imported testing kits take six to seven hours.
  • The Ministry of Information and Technology in India has launched a mobile app, Corona Kavach, which tracks users’ geographic location and alerts them if they are near a coronavirus-positive person.

While developed countries are relying on existing advanced technologies such as robots and drones, developing countries are using emergency innovations

Emergency innovations are credited to institutions or individuals involved in years of research in handling and managing emergency situations and dealing with large-scale problems; South Asian countries lead the way in this regard. Accustomed to battling diseases, such as plague, viruses and other epidemics, they are leveraging their experience effectively. Given the paucity of funds, their innovations are cost-effective yet efficient.

The concept is an offshoot of reverse innovation, wherein the differentiating factor is that emergency innovations are a product of urgency and developed over a short period of time.

The other steps taken by emerging nations are:

  1. Controlling massive spread – Through forced lockdowns and isolation of citizens, emerging nations are trying to check the spread of the disease. Other initiatives in this regard include cleaning and disinfecting public areas as far as possible and monitoring potentially infected individuals.
  2. Doing selective diagnosis – Given the cost of testing kits and overworked healthcare staff, developing countries are choosing to identify corona hotspots, cordon off the area, test only those with strong symptoms, and suggest precautionary isolation to those with mild symptoms.
  3. Using telemedicine – These countries are using telemedicine to diagnose affected people in some cities, thereby, reducing the risk of exposure for the medical staff. In India, a special platform has been developed in Apollo Hospitals at Delhi.
  4. Collaborating for developing vaccine or cure – A vaccine against the virus and cure are yet to be discovered. However, researchers and scientists in emerging nations are working alongside those in developed nations to find a solution.

The situation is grim and the next few months will be difficult for all countries as they fight the epidemic and deal with its aftereffects. However, eventually a solution will be discovered. What is important is to note that developed nations need to do a reality check in terms of their ability to handle crises such as this. For any similar unforeseen situation going forward, they may rather want to follow the footsteps of emerging countries in finding effective solutions.