How Covid reshaping medicine, healthcare
Human resilience, creativity and solidarity have kept us afloat till date, and will carry us into a future where medicine and care shall assume transcendent availability
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has ushered in a time of unpredictability and has simultaneously catalysed previously unimaginable responses of human agency and innovation. It has fundamentally altered the ways in which we envision society, work and collective action at large and the same stands true for paradigms of care, healing and public health. The ongoing battle with coronavirus has boosted investment in healthcare on a scale unwitnessed before. The new challenges it has created have led to buoyant and resilient efforts by all nations to combat the crisis and bolster health system capacities, risk management and medical technology and innovation. If the Co-Covid struggle is to be read as a marker, it certainly signals towards a future of enhanced security and better collective health.
As Daniel Kraft notes in a popular Ted Talk, "We don't really practice health care. We practice sick care." In the pre-Covid era, public healthcare regimes were dedicated to the treatment of the sick and those encountering medical emergencies.
The coronavirus predicament has shown us the unsustainability of such an approach as prevention and self-protection and care became indispensable in the face of an uncontainable viral spread. This crisis in general has led to a transformation in the way health has been imagined, as we have moved from a reactive approach that focussed on specific individuals to an aggregated idea of how we can sustain communal well-being. This has led to several nations engaging in developing technologies, mechanisms and cures which are supposed to be instrumental in the long run.
The advancement in medical technology has been in one word, extraordinary. In December 2020, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health had created a Covid-19 mortality risk calculator to gauge the potential of severe outcomes for individuals and inform vaccine rollouts. Because of the necessity of maintaining physical distancing, medical examinations were re-oriented to work through virtual inspections and remote patient monitoring. Vital signs monitors such as oximeters and portable diagnostic kits for infection became popular at a massive scale.
Researchers at KU Leuven in Belgium, led by Professor Rob Ameloot, developed a new 3D printing technique that extends the possibilities of lateral flow testing, crucial in Covid-19 tests and a range of other medical examinations. Medical technology innovators came up with new devices and self-monitoring patterns— some, which simply involved our smartphones and watches - to keep the public afloat, as we traversed a daunting and unpredictable scenario.
The "health race" has been as real as holistic as there has not simply been nation-specific innovation but also collaboration in unprecedented ways. In the US, for instance, the government launched Operation Warp Speed, a project which aimed at developing an effective vaccine and manufacturing sufficient doses for all three hundred million Americans; it brought together several agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Defence. India became the largest manufacturer of Covid-19 vaccines and embarked on the largest immunisation drive in human history. Vietnam, through a mix of aggressive contact tracing, quick strategic testing, a robust communication campaign and development of testing kits, controlled the spread and mortality in the first wave itself.
In as early as July 2020, as per the World Health Organisation, more than 150 countries were engaged in forging a Covid-19 vaccine global access facility to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for every country in the world. At a virtual summit in May 2020 hosted by the European Union, world leaders, organisations, and banks pledged $8 billion for vaccine research.
Public awareness and proactivity have skyrocketed as well, evidenced by an abundance of crowdsourced resources and awareness campaigns. Technology has enabled a knitting together of our communities as care and solidarity has assumed digital avatars. Volunteering and community support have paved the way for critical resource management, dealing with specific acute cases swiftly and spreading awareness across social, economic and cultural divides.
To sum up, it can safely be said that our struggles in the co-Covid reality have enabled us to crucially re-pivot our approach towards medicine and health. With technological innovation, volunteer effort, international collaborations and national commitments to expanding the ambit of healthcare and ensuring accessibility to all, this dire time has in fact, heralded the arrival of a better, healthier world where health and well-being shall be more democratised and effective than ever. Human resilience, creativity and solidarity have kept us afloat till date, and will carry us into a future where medicine and care shall assume transcendent availability.
The Covid age is a reminder of the durability and buoyancy of human endeavour and the future of medicine shall validate the same.
(The author is Founder, Upsurge Global, and Senior Advisor, Telangana State Innovation Council)