With the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) sweeping across continents and affecting many millions, health authorities, policy-makers and scientists, innovators around the world are racing to invent ways to contain the further spread of the virus. It is our unwavering belief that universities are – and should always be – contributing to this collective fight against this and future severe and potentially long-lasting public health crises.
It is unfortunate that whereas other universities in Africa and Kenya to be specific are making noticeable moves to atleast control the pandemic, a large number is still lying low and also looking up to the government helplessly. Infact, a number have closed up, sending their staff and lecturers home amid this crisis.
Covid-19’s highly infectious nature means there is a pressing need to find corresponding solutions, from speeding up the detection of virus carriers and halting the spread of the virus to developing a vaccine. Like our dedicated fellows around the world, research teams at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) have been working tirelessly to contribute to the global taskforce for coronavirus control.
In the very early stages of the outbreak, the latest microfluidic chip technology was adopted to come up with a portable testing kit after obtaining the coronavirus’ genetic sequence in mid-January from China. By reducing the time needed to 40 minutes, the device is one of the biggest leaps in providing early and reliable detection of Covid-19 carriers.
In terms of infection control, another University has developed PECD antimicrobial coating, a sterilizer that removes up to 99.99% of different infectious viruses. This is unlike the local Sanitizers being manufactured in various universities in Kenya. Using it as a coating on air-particulate filters in air purification systems in hospitals aids the effort to contain transmission of viruses. The technology was adopted for use at Wuhan’s Huoshenshan Hospital, a make-shift emergency hospital constructed specifically to battle the coronavirus outbreak.
Another new antimicrobial formula recently developed by another University research center, MAP-1, is effective in killing viruses that are more resistant than the coronavirus. Using it in disinfectants, paints and potentially even clothing and surgical masks could provide lasting protection against microbial contamination to public venues.
In addition, a number of autonomous driving vehicles developed by some researchers in top universities in the world and equipped with all-terrain 3D-mapping and large-scale visual and sensor navigation technologies were deployed in multiple affected cities in China. Human contacts are minimized to limit the risk of human-to-human transmission.
The alumni in a university in China have also not been left behind. Hundreds of robots produced by the alumni were sent to hospitals and quarantined spots across China to serve food and medication to patients while preventing cross-infection.
Back in Hong Kong, universities are also supporting the local government with new technologies for temperature monitoring and quarantine measures. They also understand the scarce supply of protective gear and disinfectants, such as surgical masks and sanitizers; therefore they are investing research resources to find possible ways to produce these supplies efficiently and cost-effectively to help alleviate the acute situation.
In the quest to offer a full response to the coronavirus outbreak, scientists around the globe are busily identifying targets to come up with vaccines for Covid-19. Among the research efforts, already scientists based in various universities abroad have identified a set of B-cell and T-cell epitomes that exist in the genetic sequence of both the SARS virus and the novel coronavirus that trigger an immune response in the human body.
The finding was recently published in the science journal Viruses to help expedite the development of an effective vaccine against Covid-19.
With such a rapidly developing situation, sustained efforts to work collectively in knowledge-sharing and research collaboration through university alliances are vital. Some of our universities have met the challenges from the beginning of the outbreak while more and more are joining to address the issues now.
With global alliances such as the World Economic Forum’s well-established Global University Leadership Forum (GULF), the Association of East Asian Research Universities (AEARU), the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) and the Asian Universities Alliance (AUA), our local universities can proactively gain some knowledge and share best practice from this top institutions.
The coronavirus knows no boundaries. We need to count on our substantial network and culture of sharing among universities and dedicate our expertise, knowledge and facilities to support our common goal of curtailing Covid-19. By upholding our core values of being proactive in the search of new knowledge, being innovative in coming up with new solutions and perseverance despite setbacks and obstacles, we can tackle this global challenge together.
This for sure, is a test on the real essence of our Universities in Africa.