The current pandemics gives a peculiar look to some content of the report published in September 2019.
The report The Future is Now – Science for achieving sustainable development analyzes that the 17 SDGs are so interconnected that it doesn’t make sense to take them one by one.
Instead, the authors identify six entry points “that offer the most promise for achieving the desired transformations at the necessary scale and speed”.
And, for each of these entry points, they examine the four levers we already talked about. Although we suggest, of course, that you read the report, we will here only look at what they write about the Science and Technology lever.
Human well-being and capabilities
The first entry point is Human well-being and capabilities. As half of the population of the planet is more or less confined at home and the COVID-19 pandemics is running, we can see that the authors did their review job rather well: what we live now was largely foreseeable.
Most of the means to prevent such a pandemics and to mitigate its consequences are described here.
Science and technology offer many tools for improving the understanding of risks and possibilities and for guiding different lines of action. New technologies and research in the natural and social sciences are expanding the scope of health care and cognitive development. They are also reducing the costs of health care, education and other services in some contexts and helping to more effectively reach persons with disabilities and those in rural areas, as well as other groups at risk of being left behind.
Science at the base of solutions
The authors give only some examples of how technology based on science can help to improve healthcare. Had they been implemented in more countries, the burden of the COVID-19 would certainly have been less severe (and it is not only a matter of “developped” vs “developping” countries).
Innovative technological solutions are being developed to support universal access to health care and health-care facilities. Those include risk pooling to extend health insurance coverage, tele-health to reach underserved populations and those with limited mobility and activity services to tackle and prevent non-communicable diseases.
The rise of online education
Are you a university professor, a teacher or a student (any level)? Your current situation is most probably here too. Will it be also a more regular situation in the future (for happier reasons than today)?
More education for remote areas can now be carried out online. And technology can also increase the frequency and reach of teacher training and certification.
New production processes
And what do we see in many parts of the world, where people desperately need medical and protection equipment? Social networks are full of recipes and tutorials to use 3D printers and other very local devices to produce items.
Additionally, those new technologies can transform production processes, which ensures quicker and cheaper service delivery that is also accessible in developing countries. For instance, 3D printing allows for cheap development and low-volume production of complex components.
Collecting data to inform public decision is not a new practice. But the report’s call to develop data literacy resonates today more than ever, as urgent decisions have to be made, by policy makers, but also by scientists, physicians, and everybody, each at its responsibility level. Even under pressure, it is important to take datas as they are (and as they are not), and to use them the most correctly as possible.
Policies to expand capabilities should be based on detailed and disaggregated longitudinal data that track individuals through the life cycle and across generations. That means improving data collection and data literacy among decision makers so that they understand life cycle and intergeneration links in deprivations and are better able to align actions with needs and design policies according to specific regional and national contexts. That may include the use of big data and analytics.
What we already know gives hope
Let conclude for now with some words of hope. Yes, we already know a lot about how to prevent and treat epidemics. We just have to be prepared. We just have to continue to do science even when there doesn’t seem to be any urgent need. We, collectively, didn’t do this after the 2003 SARS and the 2012 MERS. Let’s hope that the harsh lesson the world is taking nowadays (which we still don’t know how it will end) will help to implement the necessary steps to prevent an analog (or worse) situation in 1, 5, 10 or 20 years.
Public health and the management of epidemics and infectious disease can take advantage of the latest technologies. Research organizations can collaborate across the health-care sector to develop innovative, low-cost preventive and curative treatments. Those can tackle communicable and non-communicable diseases, considering especially their variants in low- and middleincome countries, and for women whose different symptoms and needs in dosage are often excluded from medical research. They can also involve treatment for multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis or strategies to address growing anti-microbial resistance. Efforts can develop low-price, high-volume models to expand access to vaccines, diagnostic tests, pharmaceuticals, supplements and family planning in low- and middleincome countries. Finally, new forms of data collection can help reduce the spread of infectious disease.
To be continued.