India had a fair grasp of the seriousness of the impact of Covid-19 by April 2020. In the subsequent six months, the war on the pandemic has been increasingly sharpened with the help of technology.
While in the early weeks, experts had approached Covid with a tentative approach, now every weapon in the tech arsenal has been deployed on the frontlines.
Since April, a wide range of government bodies, academic institutions and private enterprises have developed and created tech-based solutions to combat Covid.
The government-run Technology Development Board undertook a challenge to fund the best ideas to fight Covid. The TDB approved funding to Covid diagnostic kits and other such devices. The technology being used by the equipment of these projects included a video analytics platform; image processing software; real-time alerts using Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). Other projects involved tech-led quarantine monitoring of food and drug delivery, apps for self-assessment, and telemedicine.
The Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi deployed several teams to work on Covid solutions. These ranged from developing masks using specialised textiles and materials to automated devices.
The Marico Innovation Foundation ran a tech challenge with a prize money of Rs 2.5 crore. The winners were companies that developed automated ventilators and low-cost personal protective euipment (PPE) for second line of defence professionals. Smart PPE kits with wearable sensors and advanced materials are also being planned.
Young drone manufacturing companies have seen their products being used for monitoring social distancing in crowded areas. Recorded messages are played out with loudspeakers attached to drones as they fly over crowds. States like Madhya Pradesh and Telangana have used such drones.
The market for health tech, which was already growing rapidly, is accelerating further. From an estimated $109 billion in 2019, the health-tech market will grow to almost $640 billion by 2026, according to a report by Global Market Insights.
“The growing number of COVID-19 cases across the globe has increased the adoption of digital health technologies and will boost the digital health industry growth,” the report by Global Market Insights says.
“Rapidly growing healthcare IT infrastructure in developed and developing countries will be conducive to market growth. Furthermore, a growing awareness about the importance of fitness and health among the population will increase product adoption, driving market growth. Remote management of healthcare using IoT, AI and such technologies are driving growth.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced hospitals to triage the patients, there will be a growing adoption of remote monitoring solutions to ensure the health of patients with chronic conditions,” says the report.
Investments in health tech are rising too. According to CB Insights, Asia-based digital health saw a nearly 3x funding increase. “Telehealth funding reached a new record of $2.8B in third quarter of 2020 which is a 73% increase from the previous quarter - across 162 deals. Healthcare AI companies received more than $2B in equity funding across 121 deals, setting a new high for the sector.”
India is as much part of the trend. The agility demonstrated by domestic manufacturing industry is a testament to it. To create a $2 billion industry of PPE kits in a few weeks was impressive.
The second phase of using tech for Covid will be in the post-vaccine scenario. The development and manufacturing of vaccines will test the technological abilities of the pharmaceutical sector. The use of AI for simulating clinical trials will support the acceleration of the vaccine. More importantly, the development of cold chain facilities for delivery of vaccine in controlled conditions will rely heavily on IoT, robotics and related technologies. Most logistics companies are already deploying such technology.