Innovations by Indians during the COVID-19 Pandemic

    23-Apr-2020
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From manufacturing masks and sanitisers to making of disinfected chambers to combat COVID-19, The indomitable spirit of man has not, however, failed to surface. Inventing a cure to COVID-19 has been engaging man's mind ever since the deadly virus came, this pandemic has lead to many innovations to tackle the
dreaded virus

 
 -Mayank Gupta


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A disinfected barrier-examination booth for examining
COVID-19 patients developed by SCTIMST scientists
 
 
At the height of a frontal assault by a full-blown COVID-19 pandemic, the world remained indoors, spending much time on washing and wringing hands alternately. News from the developed countries in the Western hemisphere regarding the extent of the damage already caused has not been encouraging. The alarming situation is far from over. Everything from workplaces to places of worship, movie halls, shopping malls, educational institutions and friendly neighbourhood shops has been under a lockdown. Work from home as well as social distancing has become the new norm. Gatherings of people, no matter how small in number, and physical contacts, are strictly avoided. Going out except for essential purchases is sternly prohibited. Social life, as was known in the pre-COVID-19 days, has given place to live at home. Moreover, interaction with the outside world has been restricted to access via social media.
 
 

Out-of-the-Box Thinking

 
 
There are many conspiracy theories about its origin, doing the rounds. Is its experimentation with a bio-chemical weapon gone wrong? Is it part of a trade war between the US and China raging for some time?
 
 
Besides floating the possible theories, world powers hardly have the time to prove or disprove any, every country's hands being full with having to address the question of saving their people and economy from the deadly viral attack. While a permanent cure is hopefully on the anvil, humankind has to make do for the present with innovative solutions to the underlying problem of survival.
 
 
India has been grappling hard with the challenge of saving lives, treating the afflicted people through isolation and quarantine, preventing the contracting of the virus by more people, and the elimination of the virus altogether. The multiple tasks constitute a formidable exercise in the face of the country's vast landmass, demography and unique religious and cultural constraints. For instance, the authorities had to do a lot of persuading to convince some sections of people against collecting on the roads or places of worship.
 
 
The lockdown has nothing to do with the fundamental right to practise a religion of one's choice as per the established traditions and customs. The Union government has been leaving no stone unturned to create awareness among the people to comply with the lockdown and maintain social distancing. Besides, it is counting on the cooperation of the citizens and has calibrated its measures and methods of fighting the virus accordingly.]
 
 
What makes the situation particularly vulnerable is the need to divert much of the available resources to address the various aspects of this emergency operation even when the economy has already been on a downslide. In the circumstances, much depends on the private sector and the public to come up with solutions for the humongous task on hand. We are long past the stage of leaving the issue to doctors, nurses and cleaning staff. Hence, the Prime Minister's call to the people of the nation from all walks of life to be united in humanity's war on the virus.


Start-Ups

 
A Centre for Augmenting War with COVID-19 Health Crisis (CAWACH) has been constituted by the Department of Science and Technology for Rs 56 crore to scout, evaluate and support innovations and start-ups that address COVID-19 challenges. The National Innovation Foundation (NIF), under the Department of Science & Technology, has welcomed innovative solutions and is committed to funding citizens who find COVID-19 related solutions and scaling up the innovations.
 

 
Ground Level Innovations

 
 
In real terms on the ground level, instead of lamenting over the non-availability or the cost factor of facial masks or hand sanitiser, people have been coming up with ingenious ideas of fashioning home-made masks and sanitisers from material and resources readily available. Neem leaves, turmeric and the wide variety of spices that find a pride of place in a standard Indian kitchen shelf have been put to good use to prepare sanitisers and concoctions, as well as food preparations fit enough to build up one's immunity.
 
 
Cow dung, known for its anti-septic value, and cow urine do not lag far behind. However, their external or internal use is taken with a generous pinch of cynicism and skepticism except by hardcore votaries of the ancient Sanatana Dharmic traditions and customs. Meanwhile, there are cities and towns in India, although few, like Bengaluru, where well-informed people living in multi-storied buildings, use a straightforward and innovative means to avoidtouching buttons in elevators – toothpicks exclusively kept for the purpose.
 
 
This rudimentary tool used for avoiding physical contact with surfaces in public places is bound to evolve, with time, into a sensor-operated gadget. Where hotspots have been declared, the Central and respective state governments have made arrangements for the supply of essential items, medicines, etc., at the doorstep by designated suppliers.
 
 

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A full-body walkthrough disinfection chamber for personnel sanitisation enclosure designed by DRDO
 
 


DRDO and Smart Cities to the Rescue

 
 
DRDO has designed a full-body disinfection chamber at treatment centres as also a full bodysuit to stop contamination through the Coronavirus. IIT Roorkee has developed a mobile tracking application with state-of-the-art features to boost efforts for the surveillance of COVID-19 infection suspects. It has also developed a low-cost portable ventilator.
 
 
Tele-healthcare facility, comprehensive COVID-19 stations with facilities like thermal screening, pedestal-operated hand-washing and soap dispensers and hand driers, helium balloons attached with cameras for surveillance, COVID-19 War Rooms with a data dashboard, video teleconsultation facility for use by residents, etc., constitute a spectrum of innovative ideas and applications launched by Smart Cities across the nation.
 
 
The Government of India has installed Arogya Setu, an application to track people who have tested positive of the virus. It has also launched an Inter-active Voice Response Service for people with feature phones.


Other Breakthroughs

 
 
India has been known to house a large abundance of bio-diversity including herbs and vegetation of a mind-boggling variety that go into the making of concoctions used in treating diseases and ailments for centuries on end. Nature Cure, Ayurveda, Siddha and Homeopathy are some unique branches of Indian medicine that have gained popularity not only at home but in several parts of the world. Intending to explore the scope of Ayurveda for fighting COVID-19, the Kerala government has decided to classify people into seven categories based on the likely spread of Coronavirus. They will then be advised ayurvedic treatment based on this classification.
 
 
Meanwhile, the Thiruvananthapuram-based Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) has designed a much cheaper and faster diagnostic test kit that can confirm COVID-19 infection within two hours. This test kit is cost-effective as each test would cost the lab only Rs 1,000 and a total of 30 samples can be tested in a single batch in a single machine. It also has 100 per cent accuracy. This test kit has been developed at the right time as India was seeking to ramp up it is testing for Coronavirus across the country and has been so far procuring test kits from other countries.
 
 
Another notable innovative solution rolled out by SCTIMST is a disinfected barrier-booth for COVID-19 patients. It looks similar to a telephone booth, and doctors can use it without having to make any direct contact with the patients, which prevents contact transmission of Coronavirus. Till the invention of a wonder cure, which could be produced on a mass scale and put to use to save lives and eliminate the scare of the virus, we will get to witness more such innovative solutions and courses of treatment across India.
 
 
(The writer is a Delhi based chartered accountant & columnist.)