Professor S Sadagopan talks to Financial Express Online, explaining what the institute has done to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Coronavirus pandemic in India: Kudos! Premier IT institute in Karnataka IIIT-Bangalore has been silently working on several initiatives during the coronavirus pandemic. As the entire country grapples with widespread COVID-19, International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIIT-B) has been trying to make use of its own expertise in various fields and contribute in whatever way possible. During this, a major contribution by the institute has been the development of Karnataka’s COVID-19 dashboard, which has been the portal where all the information regarding the coronavirus cases in the state is shared.
Coronavirus pandemic: IIIT-B’s contribution in various areas
In an interview with Financial Express Online, IIIT-B Director Professor S Sadagopan said that several departments of the Karnataka government had wanted a unified portal where consolidated information regarding COVID-19 from across state departments could be shared. “Around March, over a period of around one week, we sat down with these departments at the Vidhana Soudha and developed the entire portal. For the last nearly three months, whenever someone searches information about coronavirus pandemic in Karnataka or looks up Karnataka COVID-19 dashboard, the portal that they access is the one developed by IIIT-B,” he said.
However, that’s not all that IIIT-B has done, and it has in fact gone beyond the boundaries of the states. Professor Sadagopan has a history of having worked with the Jharkhand government earlier, and during the coronavirus pandemic, his friends in Jharkhand sought his help over an issue. In response to the request, the institute developed an app that would track the movement of all the migrant labourers entering the state. The entire movement of the labourers is being managed through the app itself, he said, adding that the state also thanked the institute for their assistance.
“Apart from that, we have also been working with the state government on diffusion models, which is difficult. Even the Lancet journal had to withdraw a paper related to coronavirus study. Since we do not have enough data, most of the diffusion models are not able to do a great job at predictions. But nonetheless, we have been working on that,” he added.
But that’s not where things end. “Slightly looking ahead”, he said, was a new ventilator design that IIIT-B has been developing along with a startup. “This ventilator would be low cost, but more importantly, we are taking the open source philosophy with the design and once it is complete, the team would not patent it, but rather make the entire design open source, so that anybody can make it,” Prof Sadagopan told Financial Express Online.
“Another unique fact about this ventilator that we are developing is that it would make use of the components available in India, which many other ventilators do not have,” he added. While the project has progressed significantly, some issues like the research team being stuck in different places and the material being stuck in Delhi are causing a delay, but the Prof expressed hope that the project would take off soon.
The IIIT-B, however, did not just end at contributing with its technical expertise. It also went for social welfare. Prof Sadagopan said, “Electronic City, where the institute is located, had a large number of migrant labourers. Since most of the IIIT-B students had gone home and we had a kitchen that could cater to 1,000 people, the institute took to preparing food and dispatching it to these labourers. This initiative cost about Rs 13 lakh, which was contributed solely by the IIIT-B faculty, staff and alumni, so that the burden is not borne by the community.” The initiative, which lasted around 25 days, helped in providing over 29,000 meals.
Talking about the measures that IIIT-B itself took during the pandemic, Prof Sadagopan told Financial Express Online that the institute has provided its cooks with personal protective equipment (PPEs), apart from having dispensers at several locations. “We also have thermometers and round-the-clock healthcare workers. Apart from that, everyone coming into the institution is tested. We have also been working with only skeletal staff, while senior officials visit the institute twice a week. Apart from that, at the very beginning of the pandemic, when students had to leave hostels and go home in March, we ensured that we packed food as well as masks for all of them,” he added. Fortunately, the institute has not had any confirmed case as of yet, even as foreign students were stuck in the hostel for over two and a half months.
Rising opportunities during COVID-19
Discussing the opportunities that have come up during the pandemic, Professor Sadagopan told Financial Express Online that in his opinion, there were three major areas where the health sector can see growth. “One of the biggest problems currently is testing, which is expensive, requires trained people to take samples, and needs a laboratory setting with equipment and trained people to be tested. This does not work well for a country like India, where the cost of testing due to the population increases significantly. So, one of the things to work on is an alternative method which is faster, cheaper and better. Something like maybe a sticker device which can be placed on the body without any harm, is inexpensive and does not cause hassle. Moreover, this device could continuously upload the patients’ data on the cloud for monitoring. Something along these lines is being explored,” he said.
“Apart from this, if such a device is developed, then we would have enough data to work the diffusion models, and once these models get such data, they could predict or find the trend of the pandemic. This would take at least one to two years,” he said.
“Lastly, we can see that medical technology equipment used in India is mostly imported. I believe that would now change and India will get into the field of manufacturing medical equipment in a big way. In fact, even during the pandemic, people have so quickly developed so many equipment that can help healthcare services. As this confidence grows, India would see an increase in sales, and resultantly, a result in its own research and development into this sector all on its own. I believe that COVID-19 is just a trigger,” Prof Sadagopan explained.
COVID-19 is not the first time that IIIT-B has assisted in the healthcare sector. For the last two to three years, the institute has been working with National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) to develop an app which could act as an aggregator between mental health caregiver and the patients, to make access to mental health care much easier. The app, which was launched officially last month, is now also being looked at by the Centre as something which could be introduced in the entire country.
With such achievements in his arsenal, the inputs provided by Prof Sadagopan are significant and could help the country further improve the IT as well as the healthcare technology sector.