New Zealand has been recognised internationally throughout the pandemic for efforts in fighting COVID19, and in particular, it has been recognised for its’ impressive leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The PM has notably put the health and safety of New Zealand citizens first and foremost. She has communicated transparently and effectively with the people and has built trust and gained their confidence through her actions.
Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style, focused on empathy, isn’t just resonating with her people; it has put the country on track for success against the coronavirus.
The country has a population of around 5 million people, yet New Zealand only recorded 1,219 infections and 22 deaths so far during the pandemic. These are dramatically lower than many other countries that are still grappling with thousands of deaths.
Being Proactive – Taking Precautionary Measures Early in a Pandemic
New Zealand government also took decisive action right away, planning for a possible outbreak began intensively on January 24, 2 days after the WHO reported evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health established an incident management team and advised the public that while the risk to New Zealand was assessed as low, the Ministry was taking the outbreak very seriously.
New Zealand imposed a national lockdown much earlier in its outbreak than other countries did in theirs, and banned travellers from China in early February, before New Zealand had registered a single case of the virus. It closed its borders to all non-residents in mid-March, when it had only a handful of cases.
Swift Lockdown Action after 102 days without local infection
Just yesterday New Zealand put its largest city back into lockdown after recording four new Covid-19 cases, ending a 102-day streak without a local infection.
A three-day lockdown was swiftly imposed in Auckland after the cases were confirmed. The four new cases are all members of a single family. None had travelled recently.
The restrictions will came into effect on Wednesday, as authorities track and trace contacts of the family. Auckland residents will be asked to stay at home, large gatherings will be banned, non-essential businesses will be shut, and some social-distancing restrictions will be reintroduced in the rest of the country.
The importance of open communication between government and citizen in crisis management
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the pandemic back on March 21 was bold and garnered public support.
That day, Ardern delivered a televised statement to the nation announcing a four-level Covid-19 alert system.
Modelled on fire risk systems already in use in New Zealand, this familiar approach set clear guidelines for how the government would step up its response — and what would be asked of citizens as infection rates grew.
Prime Minister Ardern’s communication has been clear, honest, and compassionate. It has acknowledged the daily sacrifices to come and inspired people to forge ahead bringing them together.
She has spent a lot of time reassuring people during the lockdown with daily briefings and a message that resonates: “Go hard and go early.”
Pandemic demands transformative, collective action from Government and its people
Prime Minister Ardern has established a shared sense of purpose amongst the government and citizens.
Key leadership practices which are leading to New Zealand’s success is the government’s willingness to let themselves be led by expertise, its efforts to mobilise the population, and to enable coping, all of which leads to increased trust in leadership which is needed for transformative, collective action such as the pandemic demands.
As medical technology advances, breakthroughs in diagnosing and treating various critical illnesses are achieved, and as the design of patient treatment plans becomes more precise and personalised, healthcare practitioners are expected to keep abreast of the latest developments to master the most sophisticated technologies.
In a cancer treatment team, members are specialised in their respective fields, yet they work together seamlessly to devise the most effective treatment for patients. One of the lesser-known of the specialists in such a team, the Medical Physicist, is responsible for formulating treatment plans, as well as monitoring and maintaining radiation equipment used to ensure the precise, effective and safe delivery of treatment.
Medical Physicists specialise in radiation treatment technology, with their expertise spanning from diagnostic imaging to radiotherapy, and they are “strong backers” of the cancer treatment team. However, a higher degree programme in Medical Physics was previously not available in Hong Kong or nearby regions.
To meet the future demand for Medical Physicists, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has, this academic year, launched the first Master of Science in Medical Physics (MScMP) programme in Hong Kong. The curriculum is designed to cover various aspects including health technology, physics and engineering, offering interdisciplinary training for professionals who are keen to pursue a career in the field of medical physics.
High demand for cancer treatment Creating local training opportunities
The ageing population in Hong Kong poses immense challenges to the local healthcare system and the rising demand for cancer treatment is one of them. To maintain the quality of healthcare services, it is essential to have more qualified professionals in the workforce.
There are about 150 Medical Physicists currently practising in Hong Kong, serving at the Hospital Authority as well as in public and private hospitals. They possess both physics and medical expertise, playing a vital role in diagnosis and the formulation of treatment plans, as well as ensuring proper operation of equipment to achieve the treatment goal.
The Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences of PolyU stated with the advancement of technology and patients’ growing expectation of higher service standards, there is a need for the additional workforce. Besides those working on the frontline, experts in innovative health technology at the back-end to achieve effective treatment are needed. Thus the new masters programme in medical physics will both prepare students for a career in medical physics and help to promote the development of the field itself.
Leveraging interdisciplinary expertise Striving for the well-being of patients
Medical Physics is an interdisciplinary field that crosses the boundaries of medicine, physics and engineering. The Head of the Department of Health Technology and Informatics of PolyU pointed out that the demand for radiotherapy is ever-increasing.
In Hong Kong, cancer has long been the leading cause of death and radiotherapy plays a crucial role in cancer treatment. In the past, no dedicated master programme was offered by local institutions, and people have little understanding of the role of the Medical Physicist.
It is hoped that through this new programme, more people will understand the importance of medical physics and hence help to open new research areas in this field.
The programme leader and Professor of the Department of Health Technology and Informatics, added that the programme is taught by an interdisciplinary team, striking a good balance between theory and practice by incorporating modules in health technology and informatics, applied physics, applied mathematics, biomedical engineering and computing. The aim is to broaden students’ perspectives in medical science and technology development and equip them with professional knowledge, relevant skillsets as well as research capabilities.
The Vice President (Education) of PolyU noted that the university is considering switching some of its undergraduate and postgraduate programmes from single-disciplinary to interdisciplinary, to better address societal needs. This new MScMP programme is a good example of PolyU’s interdisciplinary efforts. Thus, while students enrolled on this programme already have a bachelor’s degree in a specific discipline, they can acquire new professional knowledge in the areas of health technology, physics and engineering, and create a synergy of different subjects. This will provide a solid basis upon which they can develop a career in the field of healthcare.
Contribute to the community with medical physics knowledge
According to the President of the Hong Kong Association of Medical Physics half of the practising Medical Physicists in Hong Kong obtained a relevant higher degree overseas, while the other half pursued their master degree in physics or engineering in Hong Kong, and received “on-the-job” training while working as a Resident Physicist.
He is encouraged to see the launch of the first MScMP programme at PolyU, noting that Medical Physicists play a pivotal role in a medical team, although they spend most of their time behind the scenes, they are irreplaceable in the planning and implementation of cancer treatment. They are responsible for formulating treatment plans, calculating radiation doses, as well as testing and monitoring equipment to ensure that all arrangements are perfectly executed.
Currently, the minimum entry requirement for Resident Physicists in Hong Kong is a master degree in medical physics, physics or engineering-related subjects. While working as a Resident Physicist in a hospital, one can start taking a three-part professional examination. Generally speaking, it takes about four to five years to attain certified recognition as a Medical Physicist.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) announced that a strategic partnership has been forged with the National Sports Institute (ISN) to help improve the diet of Malaysian athletes through the development of a mobile application, iDiet Score.
The IDiet Score is a mobile application was designed to help athletes and active individuals monitor their food intake through menu plans devised using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Going forward the application can be developed is one of the products developed by UKM scholars that can be commercialised relatively soon. It is hoped that the project will wrap up development in December 2020 and then the next grant (which is a marketing grant for commercialisation) can begin to be discussed.
The ceremony was officiated by the Minister of Youth and Sports. Also present was the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs at UKM.
Approximately 50 ISN athletes were involved in research which focused on endurance, rhythmic, strength and other active individuals. These active individuals included people who went routinely to fitness centres or gyms and who were keen on clearly defining their needs. While the application was created with athletes in mind, any tier of active individual can download the app.
A total of eight UKM researchers were involved in the project, six from the Faculty of Health Sciences and two from the Faculty of Technology and Information Science, while two were from ISN. The iDiet Score application was developed by the UKM Information Technology Center appointed as a vendor.
The ISN Chief Executive Officer stated that as a national sports institute, ISN is continually seeking to expand its strategic networks and collaborations holistically through collaborations with various domestic and foreign entities including government and private agencies.
He noted that ISN officially has entered into cooperation through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with four public universities, namely IIUM, UPM, UKM and UTM. These collaborations will see cooperation in the fields of services, research, sports science, innovation, sports medicine and commercialisation in various fields that are the core business of ISN. The agency is ready to build a balanced relationship with more strategic partners collectively in the future.
According to another article, the National Sports Institute of Malaysia (ISN) and Futurise Sdn Bhd (Futurise) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) aimed at developing a regulatory framework within the sports market for sports technology and advancements that can potentially allow a new ecosystem to be established.
Futurise is a company under the Ministry of Finance that focuses on innovation, regulation and commercialisation. In collaboration with ISN, the company aims to ensure that there is a continuous effort in developing regulatory frameworks for sports be it the sports technological improvements, new guidelines or policy issues.
There is a huge prospect in the sports market that can be transformed into a potentially lucrative ecosystem in Malaysia, with technological advances, the Futurise CEO stated.
The MOU will see the two parties identify and explore potential collaboration towards building a sustainable business model and pilot innovative solutions within the sports technology space. While Futurise, through the National Regulatory Sandbox (NRS), will work on exploring innovation-friendly regulatory approaches for emerging solutions and business models developed by ISN partners and ecosystem participants, ISN will be looking towards providing expertise in the area of R&D with regards to sports technology and innovation. Currently, Futurise is in a preliminary discussion with one of ISN’s partners to address their regulatory issues.
The Futurise CEO concluded that the sports industry is incredibly diverse. Very shortly, the Malaysian sports market has the opportunity to be an ecosystem that will fuel new markets that attract investors looking to enter the sports investment landscape. The firm aims to contribute to the strengthening of technology innovation in sports for Malaysia and we look forward towards a fruitful partnership with ISN.
Researchers from the University of Wollongong and Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute have received a share of $1.5 million from FightMND to further investigate the causes and treatments for motor neurone disease (MND).
MND is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes motor neurons, the pathways between the brain and muscles, to degenerate and die. The disease develops when proteins in the body become misshapen, clump together, and block the pathways. MND is rapidly progressive and leaves patients with the inability to walk, talk and eventually breathe.
A professor at the University of Wollongong has received a $1 million Drug Development Grant to further his research into the condition, which focuses on a potential new therapeutic strategy. The Professor said the grant will fund a post-doctoral researcher and a research assistant, to test a combination therapy that they hope will be effective in familial and sporadic MND.
The scholars believe that a three-pronged approach targeting distinct and complementary aspects of the underlying molecular causes of MND will be a more effective approach. The researchers were also awarded a $250,000 Impact Grant over two years to investigate the deposits that cause MND.
Both scholars will use the funding to utilise a new form of technology that takes a closer look at single protein molecules. They plan to use these technologies to look at the toxic proteins that build up in MND patients and want to define how the shape of the proteins may give rise to MND and characterise differences between patients.
By knowing the shape that these proteins take, the researchers can identify specific parts of the proteins to target with therapies. They not only want to examine the potential causes, but also the potential treatments for MND. In the next phase of the investigation, they hope to see improvements in their research output and also in their capability to examine drugs for translation into patients.
In addition, an Associate Professor was awarded $250,000 over two years to fund stem cell research, investigating whether electrons could reverse the effects of cells affected by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a specific type of MND.
According to MND Australia data from 2015, an estimated 2000 Australians are living with MND. With 400 new sufferers being diagnosed each year, the numbers of existing patients remain low due to the rapid mortality induced by MND. There is currently no known cure or effective treatment for the condition.
All grant funding was provided by FightMND, a not-for-profit group that funds and supports research into the disease. The group recently announced a commitment of $10.68M in a major funding boost to MND research to propel the fight to find effective treatments and a cure for the disease, with 16 individual new research projects with some to begin as early as October 2020.
This commitment takes the total funds invested in MND research initiatives by FightMND to $48.45 million since the Foundation began in 2014.
Among the new projects funded are eight IMPACT grants which support projects aimed at improving and accelerating the process of bringing new treatments to Clinical Trials while seven Drug Development projects and one Clinical Trial also feature among the projects funded.
One of the impact projects under the funding scheme is for the development of blood-brain barrier penetrating peptides by a doctor at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health within the University of Melbourne.
This project aims to address this critical issue by developing a drug delivery platform technology for safe and efficient drug delivery into the brain and spinal cord. The effectiveness of this drug delivery system will be tested by delivering three different classes of drugs into the brain and spinal cord.
The expected outcomes of this project will be a safe and innovative drug delivery technology that allows drugs to reach their targets at sufficient amounts to achieve the desired therapeutic effects.
Additionally, this delivery system is minimally invasive compared to current technologies, such as intrathecal injection, currently being used in the clinic. Overall, the outcomes of this project will have a significant potential to provide therapeutic benefit for this devastating neurodegenerative disease.
The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia announced that through the Center for Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine (CTERM) it will be collaborating with one of Malaysia’s leading active live stem cells provider and a laboratory equipment supplier based in Wales to enhance stem cell research, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine in providing alternatives to contemporary solutions.
The Vice Chancellor of UKM stated that such cooperation will be able to promote the latest research and technology products in the field to be brought to the community. As a research university, UKM has invited various parties to participate in collaboration either directly or indirectly, especially in conducting stem cell research and bring this research for clinical use.
With the technology and skills possessed by both parties, resources, data and information on medical research will be shared and produced as an added value, the Vice-Chancellor stated when delivering a speech at the Contract Manufacturing Agreement Signing Ceremony between UKM and the two agencies at a leading hotel recently.
It is hoped that through the collaboration, safe, efficient and effective alternative methods can be developed and produced through the sharing of expertise in their respective fields.
The agreement aims to facilitate the stem cells provider to use clean rooms with cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices) at CTERM to produce stem cell products that are at a good level, quality and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) to consumers.
CTERM is one of the reference centres for research in regional tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. CTERM Cell Tissue Technology Laboratory is a laboratory that has an advanced clean room and is equipped with equipment that is constantly monitored and calibrated in a controlled manner.
The biotechnology company is the leading provider of active living stem cell companies in Malaysia, focusing primarily on the provision of stem cell therapy to leading aesthetic clinics and hospitals worldwide. The company also collaborates with pioneer researchers around the world in the regenerative medicine industry and is at the forefront in the development of advanced and advanced technology.
The promising future of stem cell research in Malaysia
Stem cell research in Malaysia is poised to develop quickly. In 2019, the global Animal Stem Cell Therapy Market size was US$31 million and it is expected to reach US$291.6 million by the end of 2026, with a CAGR of 37.3% during 2021-2026, one report found.
Another report noted that some skin, eggs and tissue samples are all that remains of Malaysia’s last rhino, Iman, who died last November after years of failed breeding attempts.
Now scientists are pinning their hopes on experimental stem cell technology to bring back the Malaysian variant of the Sumatran rhinoceros, making use of cells from Iman and two other dead rhinos.
A molecular biologist at the International Islamic University of Malaysia stated that he was “very confident” and that if everything is functioning, works well and there is adequate support, the task is not impossible.
The smallest among the world’s rhinos, the Sumatran species was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015. Once it had roamed across Asia, but hunting and forest clearance reduced its numbers to just 80 in neighbouring Indonesia.
Iman, 25, died in a nature reserve on Borneo island, following massive blood loss caused by uterine tumours, within six months of the death of Malaysia’s last male rhino, Tam. Efforts to get the two to breed had not worked.
The Malaysian scientists plan to use cells from the dead rhinos to produce reproductive cells that will yield test-tube babies to be implanted into a living animal or a closely related species, such as the horse. The plan is similar to one for the African northern white rhinoceros, which number just two. Researchers in that effort reported some success in 2018 in producing embryonic stem cells for the southern white rhino.
The future of stem research in Malaysia is promising. What remains to be seen is how the nation will rally around its scientists and researchers to further develop biotechnology.
The government is planning to create a National Cyber Security Strategy 2020 for a safe, secured, and resilient cyberspace. The National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, recently announced the project at c0c0n, a two-day virtual international conference on hacking and cybersecurity.
The event was organised by the Kerala Police, the Society for the Policing of Cyberspace, and the Information Security and Research Association. Doval noted that the proposed strategy aims to bring the country’s cybersecurity agencies together to secure, strengthen, and synergise the cybersecurity ecosystem by closely working with businesses and citizens.
According to a news report, he explained that the country witnessed threats to exploit the recent pandemic in the form of misinformation, fake news, and social media campaigns. Data in the cyberspace is a goldmine to extract information, undermine the privacy of citizens, and make India’s critical information infrastructure vulnerable to misuse.
He said that phishing campaigns use the COVID-19 pandemic to target financial, defense, and critical infrastructure. Around 5,000 malicious domains and websites were registered in a short period. There has been a 500% increase in cybercrime, owing to people’s limited awareness and poor cyber hygiene. Financial frauds have also increased tremendously owing to the increased reliance on digital payment platforms.
According to a recent report, e-wallets will continue to play a key role in its growth with the continuous increase in both frequency and user base. By 2025, wallets are expected to have higher penetration and lower-income would eventually drive multiple small-ticket transactions.
Digital payments are expected to grow over three-fold to IN₹ 7,092 trillion (around US$ 96 billion) by 2025, on account of government policies around financial inclusion and the growing digitisation of merchants. Mobile payments will drive around 3.5% of total digital payments by the financial year 2025, up from the current 1%. The total mobile payment users who currently stand at about 162 million would reach around 800 million during this period, the report stated.
The lack of indigenously-developed digital solutions like data-sharing facilities and social media platforms have adversely affected the nation’s self-reliance and cybersecurity, Doval added. He urged start-ups to create solutions in line with the country’s requirements and build capacity to ensure that the critical cyber assets are manned by skillful, native professionals.
IT players in the country should focus on research and development, which could lead to the creation of intellectual properties and development of Indian products, capable of competing globally
In 2019, India released a Digital India Compendium in which it outlined the government’s cybersecurity initiatives. As OpenGov Asia reported, it included the National Cyber Coordination Centre, which generates macroscopic views of cybersecurity breaches and cybersecurity threats in the country. The centre scans the cyberspace in the country at a metadata level and generates near real-time situational awareness.
Furthermore, the country launched the Cyber Swachhta Kendra, which provides free tools and security best practices to citizens. It helps users to safely carry out digital payments and secure their personal computers, broadband routers, and mobile phones.
The centre operates in collaboration with internet service providers (ISPs), antivirus companies, and academia to facilitate productive interactions in terms of guidance and communication between the government and the public. It also provides a free bot removal tool, various security tools, security best practices, and information to users to secure their systems and devices while spreading cybersecurity awareness.
Under the National Health Mission (NHM), the government is providing support to states and union territories to strengthen their healthcare systems, including teleconsultation services based on the requirements posed by each state in their Program Implementation Plans (PIPs).
The eSanjeevani telemedicine solution developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing CDAC, Mohali is being rolled out under the Ayushman Bharat-Health and Wellness Centre program. The application is compatible with advanced technologies like the internet-of-things (IoT) and Bluetooth-enabled diagnostic devices, a press release noted.
By December 2022, through the scheme, 150,000 sub-health centres (SHCs) and rural and urban primary health centres (PHCs) across the country are being transformed into Health and Wellness Centres (AB-HWCs). The aim is to provide comprehensive primary health care (CPHC) that includes preventive and health promotion at the community level. eSanjeevani has been implemented in around 3,000 HWCs.
To provide technical assistance to the states, NHM issued ‘Guidelines for Tele-Medicine Services in Ayushman Bharat – Health and Wellness Centres (HWCs), which provided details about the implementation model, IT infrastructure required at hubs and spokes, and the human resource required. Accordingly, states and union territories will submit their proposals seeking financial support under NHM.
CDAC has been providing regular technical assistance to states for training, handholding, and ensuring uninterrupted operations of the services. eSanjeevani has been modeled after EHR guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The whole architecture of eSanjeevani utilises cloud services for hosting.
eSanjeevani is being continuously upgraded to be compatible with advanced telemedicine tools for the efficient delivery of services. The modalities regarding the integration of telecardiology and teleradiology services are being examined in consultation with the states and CDAC.
Telemedicine implementation at health and wellness centres (spokes) linked with doctors (hubs) have helped address the shortage of healthcare professionals.
These products include primary medical supplies, diagnostic instruments and kits, auxiliary supplies, prosthetics and orthotics, dental equipment, PPE, and respiratory assistance devices, among others.
As OpenGov Asia reported earlier, the portal, AarogyaPath, will serve manufacturers, suppliers, and customers. During the present national healthcare emergency, where there is a severe disruption in the supply chain, the ability to produce and deliver the critical items may be compromised.
The integrated public platform provides a single-point availability of key healthcare goods and will be helpful to customers with several routinely experienced issues. Some of these include the dependence on limited suppliers, time-consuming processes to identify high-quality products, limited access to suppliers who can supply standardised products at reasonable prices within required timelines, and a lack of awareness about the latest product launches.
It also helps manufacturers and suppliers reach a wide network of customers efficiently by overcoming gaps in connectivity between them and potential demand centres like nearby pathological laboratories, medical stores, and hospitals.
A national digital health skills and training plan was released on 14 September 2020 to help the Australian health workforce use technology and further drive the digital transformation of health services to meet community demand.
As with every other sector, the adoption of technology is critical for the healthcare system and the Roadmap sets out how the Australian health workforce of more than 767,000 registered healthcare providers (as at March 2020) can be transformed over the next decade.
The development of the National Digital Health Workforce and Education Roadmap acknowledges people are the health sector’s most valuable asset and that we need to shape education and training to meet their needs and to support the provision of the best care possible to patients.
The current Australian Government has invested in a range of areas to expand the use of digital health, including workforce training, incentives to providers, and support for telehealth, My Health Record and electronic prescribing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of these systems to ensure the delivery of quality patient care during an emergency. A dramatic expansion in the use of telehealth has been a key element of the fight against COVID-19. Between 13 March and 9 September, 29.6 million Medicare-eligible telehealth services were delivered to 10.4 million patients, resulting in $1.52 billion paid in Medicare benefits.
As part of the COVID-19 National Health Plan, the Australian Government also fast-tracked the start of electronic prescribing. This gives prescribers and patients the option to use an electronic prescription, sent by text message or email, as a legal alternative to a paper prescription.
The e-prescription contains an electronic token and other instructions which can be shown to or forwarded to the dispensing pharmacist, who scans the token to reveal the prescribed medicine.
The Roadmap is a key element of the National Digital Health Strategy and was developed following a summit late last year attended by healthcare educators, professional bodies and employers.
The Minister for Health thanked the Australian Digital Health Agency and all of the individuals and organisations who contributed to the development of the Roadmap.
The National Digital Health Workforce and Education Roadmap
The digital transformation of health services can only occur with a skilled, digitally capable workforce. Confident and efficient use of health technologies by all workers in the Australian health sector is critical.
The Snapshot Summary of the Roadmap highlights the need for it. It notes that current and emerging technologies present health leaders with an array of opportunities and challenges. These technologies are expected to profoundly change how healthcare is delivered, and in doing so, change the tasks and functions performed by the health workforce.
The development of a roadmap acknowledges that Australia must shape how education and training enable the health workforce to realise the benefits of technology whilst recognising that people are the health sector’s most valuable asset. To do this effectively, clarity must be provided on what is expected from the wider health workforce in this age of digital disruption, whilst acknowledging the differences in maturity across the health system.
The Digital Health Workforce and Education Roadmap identifies the impacts of digital health adoption on the health workforce and the enabling education programs required to build digital health capability across Australia. As a key part of this, the roadmap considers the contexts and settings within which the health workforce operates and the different digital roles that are required now and into the future. The roadmap also starts the process of developing a clear workforce and education development pathway to help deliver the changes required.