As Mother Nature unleashes her latest manifestation of maternal affection upon us in the form of Covid-19, the “intelligent” and yet delusional life on its surface has only just begun to realise the new normal in this post-pandemic-apocalyptic world.
Since the first case appearance in Wuhan China, in an awe-stricken example of global butterfly effect, it has led to 182,004 deaths globally and 212 deaths in Pakistan with the number of cases rising to 10,076 nationwide.
To be brought down by something so small, so puny and insignificant is so tragic that it is amusing. Nature it seems has a sense of humour in that it only cracks practical jokes. This time playfully and facetiously, nature has flip turned the laws of love, care and propriety. It now seems that if you love or care for your elders, stay away from them as much as you can.
Also, the norms of civility now decree that the decent thing to do when meeting people is not to shake hands with them. The social distancing has forced the lives to exist within only a few urban spaces and staying at home, in it’s irony, has become the hallmark of a responsible citizen.
With that being said, the overwhelming majority has now turned to digital escapes and taken up on the claim of social media handles of their instant connectivity. Facebook family (Instagram, WhatsApp) Twitter and online connective portals have all seen a mass increase in the daytime Internet usage.
However, even beyond the big names and behind the digital curtain, Big techs have begun to design and create multi-pronged solutions over night to deal with the challenges being faced in the new normal or post pandemic world.
What are those challenges exactly?
Even if you blame the denial of human psyche or the poor predictability of the administrative and governmental masterminds, for the cause of delayed action; the virus itself has little to do with the actual challenges faced by urban clustered worlds.
What hinders the most is the neurotic panic and hysteria that has spread globally leading to mass consumption of items which one could even do without.
From panic grocery store escapades of toilet paper fights to mass shortage of sanitary equipment for health-care workers, the global shortage is nonetheless, only by the cause of simple human greed.
In an interim guide book published by WHO (Rational use of personal protective equipment for coronavirus disease, 27 February, 2020) it is stated that:
“Surging global demand − driven not only by the number of Covid-19 cases but also by misinformation, panic buying and stockpiling − will result in further shortages of PPE globally. The capacity to expand PPE production is limited, and the current demand for respirators and masks cannot be met, especially if the widespread, inappropriate use of PPE continues.”
In Pakistan, one such example comes with that of N95 masks.
The mask itself is designed for protection of up-close contagion contact when the surety of presence of said contagion is absolute. The local public could even do without the N95 mask.
However, due to the global activation of panic circuitry (mass blame shift towards social media and news channels) the severe shortage has led hospital staff, who actually need the N95, to reuse and recycle their N95s.
This, by no surprise, has led to a lot more professional health care workers falling prey to the virus and are even becoming hesitant to report to work.
In a latest article published in Dawn News, Zofeen T Ebrahim reports that more than half the professional and senior doctors in Sindh have fallen prey to the virus leading to mass provincial wide protests to provide proper PPEs and SOP’s to hospital staff. Perhaps, even more troubling than the PPEs shortage is the mass inflow of patients with suspected coronavirus symptoms. This has caused a burden on health care facilities, as they are unable to provide focus on patients that are in more critical condition and need immediate care.
How does the force behind the digital curtain come into action?
Globally, some very innovative work has come forth within a short span of time.
In France, where patient inflow has a put a drain on medical facilities, a Swiss start up called Calyps has developed an AI based solution which taking in data from previous outbreak stricken regions and from the hospital as well, can predict seven days in advance the expected patient inflow and the equipment that are needed to manage the foot traffic.
The experts said that the program self evolves and becomes more efficient with the period of time and can become an important tool for future pandemics as well. However, with solutions like these, global application of a product is where the failure occurs.
These companies need to have a presence in Pakistan or countries they need to be applied in (most software implementations require on-ground services, unless cloud based, but even that has its challenges) to make a solution sustainable.
Most big tech such as Apple, Microsoft and HP have already started funding the almost market ready products produced by smaller or freelance software houses to push the fight against coronavirus.
Most of these projects involve the adaptation of online pulse management for employees and patient self-diagnostic management system to control the timely inflow. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and further social media companies have started monitoring the information that is spread in public about the virus thus managing the spread of mass hysteria and panic in large crowds.
SAP, which is another monster among the giants of the tech world who has already made multitude of its softwares and managing portals free of cost for public health sectors and higher education systems.
Their Co-CEO writes in an open letter towards its employees and users that,
“In recent years, SAP has invested a great deal in crisis preparedness: SAP business, support, and cloud delivery teams have developed and documented business continuity plans to respond to disruptive incidents such as Covid-19, while ensuring reliability of our cloud solutions and the delivery of services to you.”
One notable mention of such a free portal is Qualtrics: Pre Screening and Routing XM Solution. As per company’s website this online management system enables public health organisations to automate the distribution of the latest Covid-19 information to members of the public, perform an initial triage for Covid-19 symptoms, and ensure that people exhibiting symptoms of the disease have access to the right supporting and testing resources.
How is this product more sustainable than its competitors?
The Global presence of SAP and UI friendly interface allows easy installment and shift of public health facilities towards the digital fabric.
Many western and middle-eastern governments have already put the product to use and are successfully, with the help of public awareness and philanthropy, been able to gain a grip of the functioning and patient inflow.
“Qualtrics, not only allows medical health facilities to keep the patient inflow in check but also has online survey portals to keep a pulse check on company’s employees and ensure a safe integrated work fabric as the shift of work from home becomes more and more common.
Challenges of application of such products in Pakistan could perhaps be lengthier and trickier. Not for the same reasons as it would be in the west, but for the lack of ability of product usage by illiterate staff members in public health facilities or the local public itself, who still haven’t coped up with tablet usage or are sufficiently tech savvy.
As a part of localization and to avoid data asymmetry in such situations, SAP is also working on IVR systems and similar tools for data collection to ensure that the digital divide can be bridged.
A specialised team in SAP Pakistan, led by Taimur Malik, the Director of Public Services, is constantly working on a 20 hour shift for developing a multi-pronged tech based solution as a proposal for the government in order to target and devise a controlled and less fragmented approach to the digital shift problem.
SAP Pakistan has assembled a focus group with senior local and regional representation to address the specific needs of our government to address the health crisis in an effective and sensitive manner.
The Director Public Services added that Big Tech needs to adopt the agility and entrepreneurial mindset of startups in the IT sector to best marry the robustness of their mature solutions with the emergency needs of the government.
I am happy to say that SAP Pakistan has rapidly expanded linkages with think-tanks, medical volunteer groups, and startups to ensure that the value we individually bring can be collected and packaged for the greater good, he said.
Why does the solution have to be multi-pronged?
Malik said that the solution has to be multi-pronged because even more than the medical health units, if we start to macro analyse and monitor the daily lives of rural and urban sectors, higher education facilities and local businesses have probably been the biggest victim of the pandemic itself.
He believes that until the denial settled in and the governments were forced to curfew the masses to their homes, many businesses and schools that handled on site work and education delivery felt out of their element altogether.
Portals like online class systems, Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams skyrocketed over night and even faced bandwidth crashes on multiple instances.
Employees who became home bound and experienced remote work situations for the first time-faced connectivity issues from our dear old friend PTCL (considering the majority backbone of internet providence in Pakistan).
Some universities such as COMSATS and National College of Arts (NCA) are even facing strikes and protests from student bodies, which are refusing to take online classes as they considered themselves to be more traditional form of artists or designers and wouldn’t adhere to the usage of technology in the learning process.
National University of Science and Technology (NUST) could be given credit for using an already set up LMS system that they had put to use since 2010 and recently in 2016 with an investment of Rs1.2 Million were able to upgrade its cloud storage, bandwidth and servers capabilities.
The system allows them to effectively manage student attendances, assignment submissions, grading systems and online-recorded lectures. It has also matured over the years to take portal monthly exams and develop an accurate grading control through the process as well.
Perhaps this solution is a bit too personalised for the university itself and nonetheless has its fair amount of challenges including the UI issues and the fact that product itself had been under development for over quite a few years.
Time is of an essence at this point and with school years and semesters disrupted, perhaps the earliest the adaptation towards the shift occurs the better.
In an open letter to Minister of Education of UK by Susanah Hares and Karen Mundy, they efficiently write:
“Although many school systems announced initial closures of 2-4 weeks, recent announcements in the United States and in Canada, for example, suggest closures may last upwards of three months. And because transmission of the virus is both new and global, its pathway is hard to predict. Education ministers are going to have to plan not only for an indefinite period of school closure, but also for the potential that either some or all schools may have to close again in a second wave of the virus.”
There had been off tech solutions for keeping the influx of the semester including the deliverance of notes and study materials at home to prepare beforehand (as done in Kenya school systems and other third world developed countries), Duty of care for your employees in Higher education and its students also befalls upon the universities shoulders.
He added that many schools and online portals have made their courses free for the period of one or two months to keep the at home learning curve active.
SAP again has produced a valuable product for this case as well including a Higher Education: Remote Learning Pulse XM Solution.
Malik claims that this helps you ensure that students are safe and healthy, and prepared for a shift to remote learning programs.
As the program is implemented, this solution helps you identify program improvements so that vital learning progress can continue.
Coupled with this, they have also introduced Free Remote Learning Solution (both under Qualtrics SAP) so that the university can ensure that the faculty and staff are prepared to deliver remote learning programs, while keeping you connected to their ongoing experiences and perspectives, so one can continuously drive impact.
All these solutions are scalable and can be implemented in both third world and first world countries.
Beyond the pandemic, and the social shock of settlement, the tech world must see the bigger picture before it’s too late. Pakistan will be facing in near future a medical and health war unlike any other.
Among such chaos, the fragmented efforts of the smaller software experts and companies should be brought under one umbrella, he said while adding that the wastage of energy comes from working on the same solutions by many companies and lack of communication and funding.
When asked about the plan of action from Malik, he said, “We are noticing with some concern that digital efforts to address the crisis are somewhat fragmented and disharmonised. This leads to duplication of efforts amongst our very talented IT and development resource pool in Pakistan. We encourage the government to align efforts amongst both Big Tech firms and local development houses so that we can deliver value to the government in as little time as possible.”
Every 100 years or so, mother nature, under the influence of the worst case of postnatal depression, decides to eradicate its biggest mistake, Humans. And so, every 100 years, through the use of its opposable thumbs and Prefrontal cortex (by sheer evolutionary luck) the same species employs all its disposable facilities for the sheer purpose of survival.
The influenza virus had us locked down San Francisco for months, the black Plague emptied the lands and streets in just weeks of time, and the Covid-19 has yet done the same.
However, this time, life shall continue, but in the form and extraordinary and almost dystopic, virtual self.