Entering Phase 3 of Re-Opening: Experiences and lessons learned at HBKU’s Research Institutes
With Phase 3 of gradual lifting of restrictions and re-opening in Qatar, Senior representatives of all three research institutes at Hamad Bin Khalifa University's Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) and Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) shared their thoughts on lessons learned from the pandemic, reasons to be hopeful and cautious, and their predictions for what the future may hold in their respective fields.
Dr. Ashraf Aboulnaga, Senior Research Director at QCRI said, ''Since the pandemic’s onset, QCRI has worked tirelessly to support Qatar's response. We developed an artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies for several problems such as modeling and visualizing the outbreak’s progress, analyzing public reaction on social media, organizing scientific literature for medical research, contact tracing, and monitoring social distancing. We were very happy to see these technologies utilized 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 that 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. The effectiveness of Qatar's response to the pandemic and how it is now controlled provides reason to be positive. However, we have to remain vigilant since the disease is still with us, and infection rates can again rise if we are not careful.''
‘‘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.’’
Dr. Omar El-Agnaf, Executive Director at QBRI said,'' Through COVID-19, QBRI has learned 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 analyzing data and developing scientific research papers. Furthermore, the global crisis has enabled QBRI to collaborate with local entities to mobilize 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 utilize existing expertise to support national needs and rethink our future research priority areas.''
Dr. Omar El-Agnaf also mentioned that 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.
Most importantly, tackling the pandemic has underscored the importance of working together and combining expertise to yield tangible results in diagnostics and testing. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach and focusing on the capacity building is integral to the success of collective efforts in tackling the virus.
''COVID-19 has also highlighted the crucial role of the biomedical field and science and research in times such as these. Overall, there are many invaluable lessons learned that will inform how QBRI enhances its existing efforts to manage any future outbreaks, and we will continue to develop new diagnostics tools, such as the COVID-19 test kits developed in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation, and to revise plans to assess core research areas from various perspectives. ''
Dr. Marc Vermeersch, Executive Director at QEERI said, ''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 to 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, Dr.Marc Vermeersch also expressed his thoughts saying ''As Qatar and the world start 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 line with Qatar National Vision 2030, and the country being a signatory of the Paris Agreement, our primary goal is research, development and innovation, including technology development, related to climate change – through exploring sustainable energy, water desalination and treatments, air quality, and corrosion, among others.
QEERI aims to keep providing science-based insights to leaders and policymakers and raising community awareness on these vital topics. QEERI will also continue to build partnerships within Qatar, and internationally, to work in a spirit of solidarity, collaboration, and coordination, to achieve our common goals.
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Source and Cover Image Credit: Hamad Bin Khalifa University