The Covid-19 vaccination drive needs to be accompanied with promotion of Covid-appropriate behaviour, which can be made a default lifestyle option with a dose of innovative small technology solutions developed by ingenious entrepreneurs, to fight better against the pandemic going forward.
It would also promote an inclusive approach to support this year’s World Health Day, 7th April 2021, theme of ‘Building a fairer, healthier world’, which is also in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 of ‘Good Health and Well-Being’.
Technology would also inject for some time an element of novelty in adapting to a Covid-19 appropriate behaviour. It might also help overcome campaign fatigue related to mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing, which are still our best bets to fight the pandemic.
Innovative Initiatives like robots for distribution of masks, drones for monitoring containment zones, automatic surface disinfectants, contact-free health monitors, ornaments for beeping social distancing alerts, touchless lift panels and antiviral fabrics would serve as foot soldiers to supplement large scale government tech initiatives like Aarogya Setu app for contact tracing and self-assessment, and Co-WIN web portal for registration for vaccination.
It is desirable to scale up such innovations as well as promote development of more such innovations to fight the coronavirus at multiple levels even as the vaccination drive continues. It would be very useful to begin with creating a database of such innovations, evolving criteria for shortlisting genuine ones in each category, validating claims, recognising winners in different categories and supporting scale up of toppers by categories. Keeping public health interests in view, it is also an imperative to call out those making false claims to ensure that the national fight against the pandemic is not compromised in any way.
Given that such innovations have come up despite the lockdown last year, it is anybody’s guess what an enabling environment can do to further the culture of affordable innovation in the country, which is all the more needed in the healthcare industry today.
In fact, the Union Ministry of Science & Technology’s Department of Science & Technology (DST) has already taken first steps in this direction by engaging with a network of NGOs and community-based organisations to produce face masks, hand sanitizers, hand washes and 3D printed face shields manufactured through innovative open-source design. DST is also promoting manufacture of natural liquid hand wash and hand sanitisers.
Obviously there is scope to do a lot more value added work for DST. The premier institution can also draw on the resources of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, including National Informatics Centre. Besides, DST can also engage with technology majors. In fact, it is the most obvious step to take since technology companies are not only proactive in the national fight against Covid-19, but they are also amongst the biggest philanthropists in the country, according to the seventh edition of EdelGive Hurun India Philanthropy List 2020.
In the long run, the government could also do well to benefit from the coronavirus learnings and review relevant policies to strengthen a larger enabling innovation environment for tackling public health emergencies in the future. The time could not be more apt since the preparation of a bottom-up and inclusive new national Science Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP 2020) is underway. The process was started towards the end of innovation decade of 2010 to 2020.
Others, too, could follow. The Ministry of Civil Aviation, which released in June last year the draft Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2020, could do well to consider industry and commerce chamber FICCI’s demand that the government should give public and private organisations blanket exemptions from restrictions for using drones during the Covid-19 crisis and classify drone services involved in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic as essential goods and services.
In fact, the focus on healthcare has also the potential to give a shot to the innovation ecosystem itself in the country, which would enable India to inch up from the 48th position on the Global Innovation Index 2020 of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). It would not only promote entrepreneurship in the country, contributing to government’s Digital India, Make in India and Startup India initiatives, but also loop back to improve health of Indians.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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