Colin Sheena – Commercial Representative at the Embassy of Israel in Dublin
Those familiar with the bilateral relations between Israel and Ireland recognise the numerous similarities that exist between the countries. Both have small populations, and transitioned from agrarian to hi-tech economies, both have strong diaspora communities, and both have done exceptionally well at attracting and retaining Foreign Direct Investment. In addition, they both score highly in several international indices measuring entrepreneurship and innovation. In relation to the current pandemic, the countries have once again become close comparators.
In the earlier phases of the pandemic, Israel, like Ireland, did well in curtailing the spread of the virus and it was heralded as one of the few model countries worldwide to have succeeded in doing so. This ability was largely attributed to its capabilities and preparedness for dealing with the geopolitical and security challenges it faces. As such, it was able to secure the cooperation of its population and deploy advanced technologies and resources. Restrictions in Israel were also more severe than in Ireland and many other countries. For instance, Israel closed its borders early on and still maintains strict entry criteria. During the first national lockdown there was strong adherence to public health measures, many resources were mobilised to tackle the pandemic, and a belief emerged that the virus had been beaten.
Unfortunately, however, Israel became a cautionary tale for other nations because instead of gradually lifting Covid restrictions, normal life resumed rapidly. This, combined with elements of complacency, public fatigue and political complications saw infection rates soar, causing Israel to be the first country worldwide to reimpose a several weeks long national lockdown. This is now gradually being lifted after a significant decrease in the virus’s transmission.
Innovation in Healthcare and Medicine
The other part of the story however is one that many here are unfamiliar with and that is the rapid technological innovation that the pandemic stimulated. While Israel has an advanced healthcare system and a universal mandatory health insurance system these alone were insufficient to deal with the pandemic. As a result, numerous private sector entities, entrepreneurs, academics and the defense establishment were recruited to the national effort to deal with the crisis.
Leveraging its creativity and innovation in the fields of Medical Devices and its longstanding use of innovative communication technologies to improve healthcare delivery, Israeli companies offering Telemedicine, Diagnostics, IOT solutions and other tools came to the fore.
IOT companies such as Kando, developed a solution to detect and pinpoint detect traces of the novel coronavirus in the sewage system, thus hoping to help local authorities avoid sweeping lockdowns in the future. Other companies such as Diagnostic Robotics developed an AI-based triage platform that provides public health officials with continuous monitoring of the patterns of virus spreads, and an analytics tool that produces risk assessment and predictive models allowing a faster and more targeted medical response in healthcare facilities.
Israeli firm CLEW Medical received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its AI predictive screening platform to help identify patients with an increased likelihood of respiratory failure or hemodynamic instability.
NextGen Biomed, a pharmaceutical company, successfully identified a number of initial indicators of biological markers that could allow it to map traces of COVID-19 in the breath which may lead to the creation of a highly accurate breathalyzer test to identify the virus.
When there were fears of a global shortage of ventilators, Israeli firm Guide Medical rapidly developed a low cost and easy to use device that converts a standard manual BVM respirator into an automatic ventilator. Many plastics firms pivoted and started manufacturing PPE such as face shields, while others such as Sonovia, developed reusable anti-viral masks coated with zinc oxide nano-particles that destroy bacteria, fungi and viruses, including Covid19.
Such is the number of Israeli firms with solutions for the challenges posed by the pandemic crisis, that The Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, a government agency tasked with promoting the thousands of companies exporting in a wide range of sectors has developed a Pandemic Response Catalogue so that it can help the companies offer their technologies and solutions worldwide, and contribute to improving testing and treatment across the globe while humanity awaits a safe and effective vaccine. This is another area in which Israel has been active.
Working towards a Vaccine
As reported in the Irish Independent this weekend, The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) began animal trials for its “BriLife” vaccine in March and following their success to date, the Ministry of Health has approved its progress to the human trials stage. If all goes to plan, a large-scale trial with 30,000 volunteers is scheduled for April/May 2021 and if that proves successful, the vaccine could then be approved for mass use. Let us hope it is.