Role of Space Technologies in COVID 19 Management

Author Name: Abdullah Rehman Butt      24 May 2020     Emerging Technologies

Millions of human beings have been exterminated by different kinds of pandemics since 3000 B.C. For instance, in 1918, the outbreak of viral influenza (a respiratory disease similar to COVID 19) resulted in 50 million to 100 million deaths, the number that exceeded the death toll of WW1. Currently, the whole world is jointly confronting a pandemic, COVID 19 (Corona Virus Disease 19), which has affected more than 4.8 million human beings and killed 324,340 humans around the globe up till now.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has declared COVID 19 as “the greatest challenge the world has faced since World War Two”. As the cases of the corona infected patients continue to rise, the world is facing numerous challenges in monitoring and controlling the pandemic. However, in the contemporary world, advancement in technology has not only enabled mankind to effectively monitor but control the outbreak of infectious diseases like COVID 19. Although space technologies and services are not forefront tools against coronavirus, in the manner that medicines, vaccines, or biotechnologies would be; space technologies can still play an important supportive role. The spinoffs and the services provided by space technologies are emerging as important tools in different domains: resource monitoring, disaster risk management, research, and telehealth, in the fight against the prevailing pandemic.

Firstly, along with the lack of medical infrastructure to fight the pandemic, the current lockdown situation has posed some serious challenges to governments vis-a-vis resource monitoring as well as disaster management in pandemic conditions. The data provided by the satellites is a reliable source for the governments to assess and monitor outcomes of their strategies adopted against COVID 19. The imagery provided by the Earth Observation Satellites is helping authorities to monitor the outbreak of COVID 19 in pandemic-stricken zones. It is also helping to oversee activities in areas like highways, metropolitan cities, industrial and agricultural sites which are normally crowded.

Moreover, satellite imagery can help the governments in monitoring the medical facilities and infrastructure in their respective countries. The data provided by the navigation satellites can assist the authorities to find the real-time location of ambulances in order to effectively use the ambulance and paramedic services in this crisis.

Secondly, an effective disaster management system needs a massive volume of real-time data in its all four phases: preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery; in order to better deal with the risks posed by the crisis situation. Besides, in this COVID 19 crisis, governments need a variety of information necessary for decision making and regulating various measures including social distancing, inter-city movement of the people, the establishment of temporary quarantine facilities in private hotels and government buildings, logistic planning, the supply of electricity and water, and supply of other daily-life commodities. The imagery and data collected by the satellites are of extraordinary help in pursuing and regulating all these measures.

Thirdly, the data provided by the satellites can also help a government to learn about the strategies adopted around the globe in fight against COVID 19, and how other governments are handling the situation in their countries. It will help a government in future decision making, drawing a comparison with the measures taken by countries, and assessing the effectiveness of their own strategies.

Lastly, the set of services provided by space technology to control the outbreak of disease includes telehealth and telemedicine. Telehealth refers to “electronic and telecommunication technologies and services (provided by the satellites) used for provision of care and services at-a-distance”. While telemedicine refers to “the practice of medicine using technology to deliver care at a distance”. Satellite communication provides prompt access to internet services and datalinks for telemedicine, especially in inaccessible localities where other telecommunication infrastructures are sparse or non-existent. Moreover, telemedicine offers workable solutions to the current crisis situation caused by the pandemic. For instance, because of sudden rise in number of COVID 19 patients, the capacity of hospitals to facilitate more patients is on the decline. However, by utilizing telemedicine services, the capacity of hospitals can be effectively managed. Likewise, the status of COVID infected patients can be monitored remotely through telemedicine without risking the health and lives of medical staff. Telemedicine addresses another issue of shortage of personal protective equipment, erupted during the COVID 19 crisis. A medical service provider sitting at a remote place, connected to the infected person through telecommunication technology, does not need any personal protective gear to be safe. As a result, it becomes easier for the doctors and other medical staff to follow social distancing and avoid person to person contact with the COVID infected person.

COVID 19 has affected almost every nation around the globe and Pakistan is no exception. Like all other affected countries, Pakistan has also employed almost all its available resources to control this widespread infectious disease. However, the current situation demands smart measures. Pakistan should use the data and services provided by its satellites in all possible domains ranging from pandemic monitoring to disaster risk management, as discussed above. As National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is working closely with Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC) under a newly established National Command and Control Centre, the experts from SUPARCO should also be included in this body. Government of Pakistan must engage the representatives from SUPARCO in discussions in order to make better decisions and to better handle the crisis.

 

Abdullah Rehman Butt is a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS). This article was first published in Regional Times newspaper. He can be reached at cass.thinkers@gmail.com