Doha: Despite the pandemic disrupting life in more ways than imaginable, researchers, scientists and the research funding body at Qatar Foundation (QF) immediately mobilized their resources to find ways in which they could best assist the country in responding to the crisis.
Marking one year since QF announced work-from-home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, QF has shared 10 ways QF helped Qatar battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar (WCM-Q) provided vital insights into the nature of the outbreak, its spread, and risk. Prof. Laith Abu Raddad, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at WCM-Q, has been instrumental in providing the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) with epidemiology analytics which helped shape the national response to the pandemic. He also led several nationwide studies to examine antibody prevalence in different parts of the population and the possibility of COVID-19 reinfections.
Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) supports nationwide testing and diagnostics.
When the pandemic started, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) swiftly assessed their tools and machinery to see which could be of use in nationwide testing and diagnostics. It effectively created a threefold plan of action to aid national authorities in the COVID-19 crisis: first, the availability of reagents should they run out; second, additional equipment for testing; and third, human capacity. With their primary objective being to increase capacity for testing, QBRI ordered and received reagents (reagents are compounds or solutions that trigger chemical reactions) that would allow them to run 2,000 – 8,000 tests per day. They also developed an in-house RT-PCR assay (assay is the process of analyzing a substance to determine its composition or quality) for COVID-19 testing, which was eventually validated at QBRI in collaboration with Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC). The assay demonstrated high specificity and sensitivity, deeming it quite robust. QBRI also made an agreement with HMC to have QBRI’s researchers physically join the new COVID-19 testing laboratory at the Hamad General Hospital (HGH), and these researchers continue to work at the HGH-HMC in shifts to support the operation of the new COVID-19 testing laboratory. In April 2020, Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) announced a new funding initiative called the Rapid Response Call (RRC), designed to provide funding on a fast-track basis to address the challenges and opportunities presented by sudden and emergent situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Fabrication Lab, or Fab Lab Team, at QF partner university Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar (VCUarts Qatar) worked with a group of fabricators and universities in the US to produce protective face shields, supporting efforts to keep those in the frontline of the ongoing global pandemic safe.
Inspired by a startup in Italy, engineers at another QF partner university Texas A&M University at Qatar (TAMUQ) modified snorkeling masks so they could be plugged into ventilators at hospitals. Qatar Computing Research Institute developed a model that traces the movement of people based on cell phone data, which helped health authorities with contact tracing for COVID-19 positive patients, especially in the first few weeks of the pandemic, before the Ehteraz app was deployed. They also developed an online multi-lingual self-assessment tool based on the guidelines laid out by the World Health Organization and HMC. Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) also modeled and visualized the evolution of the pandemic, and created a dashboard that summarizes data related to the pandemic in Qatar and the GCC countries, which helps predict disease development – such as understanding hotspots. This dashboard is used by government health authorities in Qatar, and internally within Qatar Foundation.
Ali Al Rashid, a PhD candidate at QF, created a robot for the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. The robot on wheels doubles as a security guard and an office cleaner. During daytime, it screens and instantly verifies the Ehteraz app status of people accessing the building.
Qatar Genome Programme (QGP) was the first and only active participant from an Arab country in the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, a global initiative to elucidate the role of host genetic factors in the susceptibility and severity of the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic.
Sidra Medicine developed a simplified and rapid, second COVID-19 testing method. The new method uses a pre-treatment of the specimen (swab sample) to replace the ribonucleic acid (RNA) extraction process, currently needed for COVID-19 testing. By skipping the RNA extraction step and replacing it with a simple pre-treatment process, the new method will reduce the cost of the test by approximately 75 per cent and will also improve the turn-around time of the test by approximately two hours. Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute led a collaborative research project to monitor Qatar’s municipal wastewater for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Their aim was to assist MOPH in determining the lifecycle of the pandemic and in understanding how it spreads.
This knowledge can help ascertain and provide a level of assurance in the efficacy of the implemented control measures, as well as provide early warning in case of a resurgence of the virus.