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‘New technologies, modified work processes help tackle COVID-19’

‘New technologies, modified work processes help tackle COVID-19’

Tribune News Network
Doha
With Qatar now in Phase 3 of its re-opening from COVID-19-induced restrictions, senior representatives from all three research institutes at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) -- Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) and Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) -- have shared their thoughts on the lessons learned from the pandemic and the reasons to be cautious, as well as their predictions for what the future may hold in their respective fields.
‘Technologies proved crucial in pandemic response’
(Dr Ashraf Aboulnaga, senior research director at QCRI)
Since the pandemic’s onset, QCRI has worked tirelessly to support Qatar’s response. We developed artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies for several problems such as modelling and visualising the outbreak’s progress, analysing public reaction on social media, organising scientific literature for medical research, contact tracing and monitoring social distancing. We were very happy to see these technologies utilised by Qatar’s health authorities, and some even adopted by other nations.
Likewise, we are proud of the resilience shown by our staff and their adaptability working from home. We modified work processes and put in place the necessary supporting technologies, quickly returning to full efficiency. We also paid close attention to the well-being of our staff, for instance by developing a ‘buddy system’, ensuring every employee has at least one colleague for regular exchanges.
Looking beyond QCRI, it’s encouraging to see countries worldwide embracing science as the primary means to respond to the outbreak. From a technology perspective, the response relied heavily on technologies that support global logistics, video conferencing, social distancing and medical research. As technologists, we were delighted to see these proving to be up to the challenge and crucial in ensuring an appropriate response, which will play an even more prominent role in the future.
‘Importance of science and research have been substantiated’
(Dr Omar El-Agnaf, executive director at QBRI)
Through COVID-19, QBRI has learnt to be adaptable and prepared for any eventuality. Although working remotely has meant less time to conduct research in laboratories, it has afforded our scientists the opportunity to devote more time to analysing data and developing scientific research papers. Moreover, the global crisis has enabled QBRI to collaborate with local entities to mobilise resources in support of national efforts in the fight against the pandemic. While QBRI’s research is focused on non-communicable diseases, the global spread of COVID-19 has encouraged our institute to utilise existing expertise to support national needs and rethink our future research priority areas.
During this time, QBRI has played a key role in raising awareness and keeping the wider community informed about COVID-19 through the distribution of well-researched, reliable and trusted information as well as the hosting of webinars relating to the virus.
COVID-19 has also highlighted the crucial role of the biomedical field, science and research in time of pandemics. We will continue to develop new diagnostics tools, such as the COVID-19 test kits developed in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation, and revise plans to assess core research areas from various perspectives.
‘Research sector to see a massive shift globally’
(Dr Marc Vermeersch, executive director at QEERI)
Over the last few months, we at QEERI saw the real meaning of resilience and innovation. With the onset of remote working in March 2020, QEERI quickly shifted gears and focused on how we can adapt our research work to support Qatar tackle the pandemic. Although stepping away from their labs was difficult for our scientists, it was not a time to slow down and we are truly proud of how our team has stepped up to the challenge.
Moving forward, as Qatar and the world starts approaching the ‘new normal’, we need to think about what our approach to research is going to be. We may see a massive shift, not just at a national level, but globally. Beyond the stressful aspects of this pandemic, COVID-19 has provided opportunities for change across our entire spectrum of research areas, by not only triggering adaptation strategies but also reinforcing our strength as a research institute oriented towards practical and operational aspects of its activity.
QEERI’s mandate is indeed to support Qatar in tackling its grand challenges related to energy, water and the environment.
In any case, as much as we have managed to do over the last few months, we are definitely also looking forward to heading back to the office, and back to our labs.

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