United we stand
Three university administrators from Delft University of Technology, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Erasmus Medical Centre discuss possible pathways for protecting the world – and equipping doctors and nurses – against a possible future outbreak.
Tekst: Gert-Jan van den Bemd | Translated by Tony Parr | 19 april 2020
Ernst Kuipers (left), Tim van der Hagen en Rutger Engels - Image by Roger Cremers
Apart from causing huge social and economic problems, the Covid-19 pandemic is also placing a massive burden on healthcare systems all over the world. Here in the Netherlands, one of the first steps the government was forced to take in tackling the consequences of this new disease was to quickly ramp up the capacity of the healthcare system. The government has announced a whole series of measures. More equipment has to be ordered, and staff need more personal protective equipment (PPE). We need models that are capable of forecasting what hospitals can expect in the future – not just in terms of patient numbers, but also as regards their length of stay. We also need models that can predict which particular patients are at risk of ending up in intensive care. And we need systems that can tell us how many hospital beds are available in the country as a whole, and thus help to optimise the distribution of patients. At the same time, we need to reduce the risk of the disease spreading any further. We must come up with ways of identifying infections at an early stage, and we need to trace – quickly and accurately – all those with whom every infected person has been in contact. In short, we need smart, easy-to-use technological solutions. The combined expertise of a wide range of disciplines is required in order to meet all these challenges. Delft University of Technology, Erasmus University Rotterdam and the Erasmus Medical Centre (MC) in Rotterdam have joined forces for this very purpose. By bringing together experts in engineering, medicine and the social and economic sciences, we can find smart solutions that can help us overcome the crisis. It’s not simply a matter of dealing with the current emergency, though. Our gaze is also directed at the future. How can we prevent the next pandemic? How can we protect ourselves better against infectious diseases and against the impact of climate change? How can we create a safer society? What are the answers to the environmental problems facing us? How should we control interactions between humans and animals? What is the best strategy for human mobility? Is there more we can do from a distance, both in healthcare and in other sectors? How can we use data to achieve our aims? And what sort of ethical dilemmas are we likely to encounter as we look for solutions? These are just some of the questions we need to answer.