Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from Ryan Martin, partner at LDR Advisory Partners.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that has spread across the world in just three short months has exposed weaknesses in many of our approaches to doing business, while showcasing the potential for public-private partnerships, commonly referred to as "P3s."
The unprecedented containment measures we are experiencing are an attempt to flatten the curve until wide-spread testing and adequate health care facilities can be deployed. Through all of this, we have learned from successful P3 deployments and identified P3 opportunities to mitigate future disasters, biological and otherwise.
COVID-19 containment across the globe
Strategies across the globe to prevent the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus have largely focused on containment measures. While governments are responsible for overseeing public health, the private sector role is important in advancing the effectiveness of such efforts.
Early detection and rapid implementation of testing resources are key components in positive outcomes (declining new cases, early detection, proactive treatment). While countries across the globe have taken diverse approaches to containment strategies, one successful trend has already emerged: governments are collaborating with the private sector to rapidly and efficiently identify solutions, forming P3s to execute high impact containment and restoration measures.
- South Korea: South Korea was one of the most affected countries in the onset of the coronavirus outbreak but has managed to keep related mortality rates significantly lower than China, Iran, and Italy. Its aggressive response – characterized by implementation of a mass-scale testing regime and transparent public messaging – has made it an exceptional case study for utilizing the private sector to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. In South Korea, private institutions account for 90% of its medical system and 90% of its testing capacity, making support from the private sector vital. For instance, one biotechnology company developed testing kits ahead of any identified cases, helping the government provide free tests at an astounding rate.
- Taiwan: Despite its proximity to China (mainland), Taiwan has only 67 cases as of March 16. The island’s government has leveraged civic society to improve its cloud computing system and create application programming interfaces (APIs) to implement its containment measures. These applied technologies support the face mask rationing policy, temperature monitoring in airports, and health record availability via QR code. Taiwan accredited its success to "infrastructure upgrades and data management experience accumulated over the years," revealing a powerful lesson in readiness and response planning.
- China (mainland): China has attracted attention for its use of government force and aggressive measures to achieve containment. However, it also has used innovative solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analytics to strengthen contact tracing and the management of high-risk populations. For instance, Chengdu's East Railway Station uses thermal scanners to capture the body temperature and identity of passengers, allowing for officials to monitor 50,000 people daily for coronavirus symptoms.
- Senegal: Many countries in Africa have the lab capacity to test for the coronavirus but lack the ability to administer tests rapidly and affordably. In Senegal, the Pasteur Institute, managed by the Senegalese government and a private Parisian nonprofit, is working with Mologic, a private company that has adapted technology from home pregnancy and malaria tests. This cross-sector collaboration will support the manufacturing of eight million tests, with each to be distributed for approximately $1.
Preparing for the future
P3s have proven to be essential across the globe in effectively limiting the spread of coronavirus. The United States can be no exception.
Earlier this week the Trump administration called for P3s to provide drive-thru testing and an online portal to screen those seeking to get tested. Still, as the United States braces for what is to come, critics have pointed to faults in our nation's systems for our perceived lack of readiness.
Time will reveal the full scale of the United States' response. There are key areas of improvement, that with private sector support, could advance the nation’s readiness for future challenges.
- Identification: The CDC and FDA experienced hiccups in approving coronavirus testing kits. A manufacturing issue caused inconclusive results, halting the approval of tests. This affected the United States significantly in terms of getting ahead of current cases in comparison to South Korea, where tests were developed and deployed as soon as cases in Wuhan, China were identified. Partnering with private companies already working toward solutions can potentially speed up the approval process.
- Information sharing: By the time testing kits were finally approved, only 12 labs across five states were able to process results. That is too few to address what has become a global pandemic. It is important for governments to mobilize accessible large-scale solutions that are implementable locally. This means leveraging physical spaces such as convention centers and public parks as test processing centers, or even looking to some of the technologies we have seen in across successful case studies. As we have seen, partnerships with private companies are critical in achieving this goal.
- Infrastructure: Across the nation’s major cities, infrastructure is designed as a highly centralized, efficient public good. A decentralized model, paired with central oversight and communication, could be more resilient to biological and other disasters. This applies to both the physical and digital worlds. Local governments can work with the private sector to better manage physical spaces – hospitals, airports, transit, retail locations – to reduce traffic, idle times and maintenance, all of which make containment measures more effective. A decentralized digital infrastructure, enabled by advancements in AI, cybersecurity and blockchain, can prepare society for increased data and online dependency, in ways that are safe, easy to learn and responsive to disasters.
During this unprecedented global test, we must all do our part to drive cooperation between the public and private sectors, and rethink the definition of resiliency given our newfound understanding for what is at risk. Ultimately, improved identification, information sharing and infrastructure – fueled by public and private sector collaboration – can help society mitigate the risk of biological and other disasters, while maintaining economic and social stability.