Systemic barriers - including a lack of collaboration mechanisms, insufficient data and skills, and limited understanding and consideration of the role of engineering - reduced the ability of engineers to deliver timely and effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic according to a comprehensive review of the global engineering response, published by Engineering X.
‘The Global review of the engineering response to COVID-19: lessons learned for preparedness and resilience’, produced in partnership with Dalberg Advisors, makes recommendations to ensure that a more systemic engineering response is put in place to improve preparedness for future pandemics.
Ensuring that datasets and data systems used for decision-making are up-to-date and bias-free, equipping emergency response task forces with more engineering capability, and encouraging the use of open science and data sharing standards are just three of the actions recommended by the review group.
Informed by data, case studies and comment from more than 40 countries, the review highlights the breadth of contributions made by engineers and engineering globally in responding to key challenges across sectors, disciplines, geographies, and across pandemic prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. It calls on governments, policy makers, public health actors, academia and funders, along with the engineering community, to identify and close structural gaps in resilience against future pandemics, to invest in skills, training and capacity of engineers all around the world, and to develop robust platforms for collaboration within engineering and between engineering and other disciplines.
The review identifies six major challenges during COVID-19 where engineers made key contributions:
- Providing high-quality and timely data in near real-time and in appropriate formats, leveraging big data and mobile data for modelling and contact tracing.
- Innovating rapidly to provide novel health solutions, in collaboration with scientists and clinicians, such as in the design of PPE, diagnostics, breathing aids, vaccines and digital health tools.
- Designing products and services for diverse environments and user bases to reduce inequality of access and outcomes, such as customised PPE or wastewater testing and vaccine delivery for low-resource settings.
- Pivoting existing industrial capacity and building new capacity to ramp up production of essential medical and non-medical products such as alcohol manufacturers making hand sanitisers and expanding local vaccine manufacture.
- Upgrading and streamlining global supply chains to help delivery of essential medical and non-medical products, such as cold chains and drones for last mile delivery of vaccines.
- Bolstering and ensuring the resilience of societal systems and infrastructure, such as energy and water supplies, or expanding connectivity and digital solutions for remote education or working.
Professor Peter Guthrie OBE FREng, Chair of the Engineering X Pandemic Preparedness board that commissioned the review, said: “As the COVID-19 virus and its impact continues to evolve, there is a need to reflect on the efficacy of our response to it so far and how things might be handled better in the future. Our hope is that we can use the insights provided by this truly global overview of the engineering response to COVID-19 to better integrate engineering skills and habits of mind into resilience policies and structures all around the world, to improve our recovery from the virus, and to help us on the path to a safer, more prepared and resilient future.”
Sir Richard Feachem KBE FREng, Professor Emeritus of Global Health at the Institute for Global Health Sciences, University of California San Francisco, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a reminder that a global emergency requires a global response, and that no single country or discipline can tackle a crisis alone. This report reinforces this message and focuses on the role of engineering in this fight. It calls on the global community to learn lessons and act to improve our future pandemic response—creating better mechanisms for global collaboration and coordination, engaging with stakeholders from across disciplines, and developing the skills needed to prevent, prepare for and respond to pandemics.”
Read the report (PDF).