Nations all around the world were faced with a massive challenge for the first year of the decade, but if COVID-19 proved one thing more than anything, it’s that thinking outside the box and bringing a couple of bright minds together can make all the difference.
Lovin Malta sat down with three of these bright minds, each representing genius initiatives that have helped their communities in Malta, Italy, Ireland and beyond.
In Malta, University engineers took their training to the real world and developed a vital prototype.
During a pandemic, time is of the essence. Speeding up any process creates efficiency, and can even save lives in the long run. Add to the equation a worldwide shortage of protective equipment, and you’re looking at the very important need to disinfect any equipment in hand as quickly as possible.
Well aware of this reality, the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering at the University of Malta designed and built a prototype that disinfects up to nine N95 or FFP2 respirators at one go. And yes, that’s over 400 per day!
The first disinfecting unit was donated to Mater Dei Hospital’s Department of Infection Control, with Research Group Coordinator Marc Anthony Azzopardi explaining that several deliveries of the units were requested and more are still in production right now.
The machines are not only relatively simple to build, but are also low-cost and can be quickly built in large numbers, making this solution as simple as it is vital.
In Italy, a start-up used its 3D printing expertise to help struggling hospitals.
When a Lombardy hospital sent out a distress call through a local newspaper because it was running out of valves for ventilators needed by COVID-19’s most severely affected patients, one start-up company stood up to be counted.
Innovative Italian manufacturing company FabLab Frosinone branch worked on a genius and vital project, modifying a snorkelling mask into a PAP mask. Sending those valves to many places all over Italy, FabLab’s Nader Al Khatib explained how they even produced face shields in large quantities, donating them to both local and foreign hospitals.
With Italy suffering the initial brunt (and eventual majority) of Europe’s COVID-19 crisis, Nader recounted some of the more heartbreaking and shocking moments of the last couple of months. Working long hours every single day for weeks and barely getting any sleep, Nader’s experience through the first half of 2020 was as tough as they get, with the Italian innovator quickly getting emotional as he recounted his experiences.
While talking about being stopped in his car without the necessary quarantine paperwork by police officers, Nader even broke into tears, remembering just how far his team had gotten… and how hard they had to fight to get here.
In his own words, Nader was eventually let through by Italian police when they saw the determination to help his community.
“We were not prepared for this,” Nader said. “There was no Plan B. We needed a Plan C. And I think all of us were Plan D.”
“There was a little warfare, but I think we won,” he finished, smiling.
In Ireland, a distillery shifted its whole production line to help its nation’s frontliners.
In the small town of Drumshanbo, The Shed Distillery is a popular producer of gin and whiskey. But as people’s lives and needs drastically changed with the pandemic, so did The Shed’s production.
Patrick Rigney’s team instead provided hand sanitisers for pharmacies, medics, shops and charities all across North-Western Ireland, proving that necessity is the mother of invention, and solidarity will see us through the worst of any pandemic.
Over a period of three weeks, Patrick and his team worked extremely hard to provide all the services of the country’s northwest with the essential hand sanitisers.
In fact, there weren’t any sanitisers left anywhere in Ireland’s northwest, including hospitals and healthcare centres, with the distillery’s team effort proving to be as selfless as it was essential.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved, and now we’re finally back to making whiskey and gin and vodka,” Patrick smiled, having weathered the COVID storm.
As for the European Union, continent-wide initiatives were rolled out to support the genius innovators helping their countries battle the virus.
On 17th June, the European Commission launched a new EU strategy aimed at accelerating development, manufacturing and deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine. Setting a timeframe of 12 to 18 months, the strategy is set on targeting a faster process (from research to production) that maintains the same quality and safety standards.
Meanwhile, as Brussels urged the world to work for a shared vaccine, EC President Ursula von der Leyen pledged “the European Union will do all in its power to ensure that all peoples of this world have access to a vaccine, irrespective of where they live”.
At the same time, the European Parliament building in Strasbourg became a COVID-19 testing centre, providing the necessary additional premises to support and amplify the city’s healthcare resources.
Encouraging innovation and ensuring its success, the European Commission allocated millions through Horizon 2020, the EU’s framework programme for funding research. From this one move, some 18 research projects and 151 teams across the EU and beyond are set to benefit, doing everything from improving preparedness and response to outbreaks, to enabling quicker and more accurate diagnosis through rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests.
The total investment added up to a whopping €314 million, with these actions addressing not only vaccines, but everything from epidemiology to preparedness for future outbreaks. Another essential objective is making sure that necessary infrastructures and resources are available to enable all of this vital research.
Clearly, while COVID-19 did take everyone by surprise and caught some of the most developed countries off guard, Europe’s innovators and entrepreneurs did not falter in the face of this latest behemoth challenge.
Rising to the occasion and creating genius and sometimes devilishly simple solutions to the world’s new problems, it is to people like Marc Anthony, Patrick and Nader – and massive institutions like the European Union backing them – that we owe so much. Heroes of Europe, we salute you!