Better standardisation for times of crisis

I am quite sure by now that for many of us, the movement control order (MCO) has changed our lives in some way or another.


Businesses learned how technology and long term financial prudences are important, governments learned the impacts of carefully chosen words in policy decisions, and as individuals, we learned how fragile life can be and we should cherish the people - not the objects - who bring meaning to our lives.


For me, both personally and professionally, I’ve learned first hand how a sudden and complete halt in mobility can affect us all.


Connected mobility was our main battle cry as the Malaysia Automotive Institute(MAI).


When MAI was rebranded to MARii, this utility of connected mobility evolved to also include the benefits towards other sectors – automation, connectivity, and other advanced innovations have no sectoral boundaries, and we looked at how the technologies we developed could be expanded to benefit other industries.


In the case of medical technologies, there is a significant difference in the application of the “strictness” of standards maintained in comparison to automotive or electrical engineering practices.


In the absence of a better term, the “negotiability” of requirements when developing or producing medical equipment is limited to very few items within the medical field.


Although the reasons to do so are obvious, the “do no harm” principle finds complications in uniquely urgent crises such as the COVID-19 outbreak.


Although there is ample capacity within the manufacturing sector, producible products for medical use for frontliners are limited to a very short list – despite the availability of companies with capabilities for conversion to support the healthcare system.


I am made to understand that there is still a shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) for the current active duty of our frontliners whom are combating the outbreak and saving lives of affected citizens.


Moreover, we cannot look at this issue from the standpoint of treatment alone. We need to also foresee a solution for the next phase – the change in our operations once the MCO is lifted, and Malaysians resume their daily lives.


It is clear that a complete return to normalcy may take longer than we ideally hoped. We must remember that while our public health bodies are doing a superb job in reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, other countries are still struggling with the outbreak.


Any small miscalculation may trigger further outbreaks in the future, or new outbreaks may develop over a period of time. After all, viruses evolve and have caused several global pandemics for centuries.


We must now look at life and work in the short to medium-term periods. The economic impacts of a full-fledged MCO is now better understood, and it is obvious that many need to return to their physical work locations as soon as possible.


The most likely scenario is that we will have to resume the economy despite some risks of a recurring outbreak – waiting for a complete elimination of COVID-19 may be ideal, but the economic consequences will be too difficult to bear.


This means that that there would be a strong need – which translates to a higher demand – for measures to detect possible infections, enhanced sanitization and fast response technology, some of which would require us to innovate methodologies of governance, in particular how we apply standards and regulations in medical, engineering and other technology fields.


The key question: How do we harness the technical and regulatory expertise of the fields mentioned above to develop solutions to control new outbreaks at every (at least most) aspect of our daily operations?


Some examples include - innovations needed for mass surveillance of body temperature at office entry points, or sanitisation methods and standards at shopping malls and food markets.


Such an ability to adapt and innovate may be a crisis in itself, at least equal to the crisis of preventing the outbreak of the coronavirus.


I believe that the first step would be to revisit our processes of standardisation. While the health ministry regulates health care, organisations such as the Department of Standards Malaysia and SIRIM can provide the necessary balance for the development of standards overall, especially the inclusion of provisions for regulations and guidelines during times of crisis.


I recently had the privilege to better understand the bridging between the medical and technology fields, thanks to public health specialist, Dr. Khor Swee Kheng.


Together, we co-wrote a piece on the importance of innovation from both regulatory and technical standpoints when dealing with global pandemics.


As elaborated above as well as in the letter, the ability to supply the required equipment and tools are as equally important to the manpower and hospital space requirements to cater to patients in times of pandemics.


When there is a spike in demand for such supplies, the readiness of such standards allows for better response by the entire supply chain, particularly in the adaptation to procedures that allow for production practices that comply with the safety and hygienic requirements of the medical field.


Furthermore, this allows for more participation of the industry in times of high demand – while the frontliners receive the adequate support to perform their duties, there will be room for “backliners” to contribute, completing the fast response ecosystem when a crisis looms.


The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii)

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