The Role of Technology to Prevent Outbreaks

As stated in the World Health Organization’s Managing Epidemics: Key Facts About Major Deadly Diseases, 2018, the past twenty years have been a period of deadly epidemics. In 2003, the SARS coronavirus, which no one had heard before, infected more than eight thousand people, and the H1N1 influenza outbreak that began in 2009 was the first pandemic of this century. The MERS coronavirus, which appeared in Saudi Arabia in 2012-2013, spread to many countries outside the Middle East. After the Ebola epidemic that started in West Africa in 2014 and spread out of the continent, the Zika virus outbreak that started in 2015 this time spread to 70 countries. It is still in the mind of many people that there are large cases of microcephaly in babies in Brazil due to the Zika virus and the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics are faint due to the epidemic. The plague known as the Medieval disease occurred in Madagascar in 2017 as a major epidemic, leaving thousands of patients and hundreds of dead behind it, and the plague in China’s Inner Mongolia region in 2019 shows that diseases will never disappear (albeit very old). It is known that old diseases such as cholera, plague and yellow fever return periodically and still die.

According to a study published on the World Economic Forum (“3 charts that compare coronavirus to previous outbreaks”, 19 Feb 2020) about the new coronavirus outbreak that started at the end of 2019, the graphs below show that it affects more people, spreads faster than previous outbreaks, but less lethal effects than SARS and MERS:

When the first quarter of the 21st century has not yet expired, humanity’s encounter with such great threats shows that we should be prepared just in case for the coming years – and technology will have a very important place in this preparation. The new Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak has proven how important new technologies can be for preparations and responses to future outbreaks and other major biological threats. A Canadian initiative called BlueDot not only announced the Covid-19 outbreak nine days before the World Health Organization, thanks to an artificial intelligence-driven algorithm, but also predicted that the virus would spread from Wuhan to Seoul, Bangkok, Taipei and Tokyo.

According to the news of Robyn Mak dated January 24, 2020 from Reuters, Ping An insurance group’s units started to develop algorithms that can predict the spread of influenza and other infectious diseases with an accuracy of over 90% for these regions by making an agreement with the local governments of Shenzhen and Chongqing.

The city of Wuhan, the center of the new type of coronavirus, also made an agreement with Huawei for transformations to become a smart city last December. This agreement would also make it easier to take control of possible epidemics, as it included mechanisms to react quickly to emergencies – but the possible epidemic happened very quickly and unexpectedly. makes it easier to manage, perhaps if the epidemic happened after completing the Wuhan city smart city transformation, perhaps it would be easier to control the epidemic.)

The Covid-19 outbreak also showed how useful drones could be, the drones of Shenzhen-based MicroMultiCopter’s (MMC) company, patrolling the outbreaks of the city, identify patrons who don’t wear masks and warn them through the megaphone on the drone. Drones with thermal cameras are used to detect sick people, while drones with disinfectant sprays provide cleaning and cleaning of schools and market areas. Drones do the work of people, saving money and preventing the disease from spreading more.

“Technologies to Address Global Catastrophic Biological Risks” report prepared by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Public Health School Health Safety Center determines some technologies that can be effective against global biological disaster risks (global catastrophic biological risks (GCBR)) and collects these technologies in five main groups. Global biological disasters; defined as very sudden, unusual and rapidly spreading disasters caused by the states, the private sector or international organizations, and caused by biological factors. These biological factors may have occurred naturally, were deliberately created and released, or are laboratory products and somehow reached the outside world. Although global biological disasters and pandemics are rare, risks increase due to global warming, increased travel opportunities, urbanization and population growth. The fact that biotechnology has become more effective in manipulating microorganisms raises concerns that these organisms may somehow be misused or cause outbreaks.

The first group consists of technologies collected under the heading “disease detection, surveillance and situational awareness”. Genomic sequencing and analysis technologies that can be applied anywhere in this group allow the structures of pathogens to be detected simultaneously and on site. Drones that can perform duty in air, land and water will help us to notice the changes in the environment and ecosystems in time thanks to the various sensors in its equipment. The latest technology given in this group is advanced satellite imaging techniques that will help remote observation of agricultural pathogens, thus the disruptions will be minimized by quickly intervening the possible degradation of important crops.

The second group talks about technologies under the heading of “infectious disease detection”: microfluidic chips, hand-held mass spectrometry, cell-free diagnostics. Microfluidic chips make diagnosis easier, accessible, and suitable for harsh conditions, while handheld mass spectrometry can provide further diagnosis in the field. With the cell-free diagnostic technique, the structure of the pathogen can be interpreted more easily by creating colorful and visible outputs.

The technologies in the third group consist of tools that enable taking precautions against the pathogen, which are decentralized and enable the production of drugs and medical materials in different regions. The production of chemicals and biological materials with 3D printers means that demands for many medical needs from organ transplants to drugs can be met both in cities and in hard-to-reach geographies. The ability to produce synthetic biological materials helps to produce medicines and vaccines much faster and more than traditional manufacturing methods and to discover new drugs faster.

Technologies in the fourth group focus on the distribution and management of medical countermeasures. Using microarray chips in the management of vaccination campaigns can facilitate the management of large mass vaccination campaigns, while at the same time providing significant time savings. The development of infectious vaccines that can spread to the population, just like the transmission of diseases, is an issue that has been studied, so that the vaccines can reach large masses quickly and effectively. Another study on vaccines is to produce potable bacteria and enable them to produce antigens against the pathogen that causes epidemics in humans. Other technologies in this group are material supply through drones (examples of material supplies in China that are heavily affected by the coronavirus outbreak) and self-amplifying mRNA vaccines.

The last group includes technologies for medical care and surgery capacity. First, thanks to robots and tele-health (or e-health) technologies, medical interventions against a global biological disaster will be possible even in non-traditional, home-like environments. Except this; Artificial respirators with an affordable, portable, mechanical and automated user interface are among the technologies that are important for the care and perhaps survival of many patients in a pandemic state. The difference that the technologies mentioned in the report can make (vertical axis), the level of preparation for field applications (horizontal axis) and the investment they need (sphere size) are shown in the chart below.


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