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How Epidemics Spur Innovative Thinking

Businesses are stepping in to innovate during the COVID-19 pandemic. What great innovations will come from this trying time?...
How Epidemics Spur Innovative Thinking
Written by Brian Wallace
  • COVID-19 has thrown the world into disarray, but looking at past epidemics would tell a different story. Past epidemics have brought about some of the most famous theories, classic literature, medicine, and more. 

    Past Epidemics

    During the Black Death in the mid-1300s, it was so deadly that it has been estimated to have killed between 30% to 60% of the total population in Europe. This led to the change of the social and economic systems that were already in place in Europe Led to the creation of a middle class and interest was sparked in the masses in art, literacy, and experimentation.

    During the Plague in England, in 1592, the Plague broke out in London and caused the closing of theatres in London for 6 months which forced Shakespeare to turn to write poems for money. During this time he most likely wrote Venus and Adonis, and The Rape of Lucrece.

    In 1606, the Plague broke out again in London, closing theatres again for a few more months, forcing Shakespeare back home. He then likely wrote Macbeth, King Lear, and Antony & Cleopatra. 

    From 1665 to 1666, the last major outbreak of the Plague hit England, causing Isaac Newton to flee to the countryside to avoid the outbreak. While he was in the countryside, he developed some of his famous theories on the laws of motion, calculus, optics, and gravity.

    During the Spanish Flu, in 1918, an outbreak of the Spanish Flu infected 1 out of every 3 people worldwide and killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people of those infected. Many people didn’t have access to a doctor, and those who did, they weren’t able to report influenza as a virus. Efforts such as quarantine were no longer effective as the virus had already spread around the world. This gave rise to a new interest in the underlying causes of disease and a new approach to public health safety. By 1925, the U.S. had set up a new national disease reporting program that all states were using. By 1935, the first national survey was deployed in the U.S. and by 1945, the first effective flu vaccine was developed. All of these innovations trace back to the 1918 epidemic. 

    How Innovators Are Responding To COVID-19

    Shortages of vital and basic necessities have caused other companies from different areas to help.

    • Ventilators
      • When an Italian hospital ran out of much-needed ventilator valves, a local 3D printing company, Isinnova, designed and then distributed 3D printed valves. These 3D printed valves only cost $1, and when compared to the normal cost, which is a whopping $10,000, this price reduction can mean a lot for hospitals the world over.
    • Protective Equipment
      • Distilleries have started to make hand sanitizer to help compensate for the newly increased demand. Some distilleries used alcohol waste, many are now switching to create grain neutral spirits and retrofitting their equipment to keep supplies lasting long enough.

    Necessity is the mother of invention, so what will we gain from this pandemic? Learn more about innovations from previous epidemics as well as those that were spurred on due to COVID-19 here.

    Epidemics and Innovation

    This story originally appeared on Kivo Daily

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