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Are university collaborations vital in the battle against COVID-19?

SOURCE: DOUGLAS MAGNO/AFP
Desperate times call for more university collaborations in the fight against COVID-19.


By U2B Staff 

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The number of global COVID-19 transmissions is growing increasingly alarming. But the role universities play in the fight against COVID-19 has never been more apparent. With their wealth of talent and expertise, universities are linchpins in the fight against COVID-19. 

Universities in Australia are already rising to the occasion and playing an active role in this battle. It has fuelled university collaborations across numerous sectors, both in research and in the creation of a vaccine for the virus. This includes the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The university recently announced that researchers and project staff from the university have been seconded to Australia’s government department NSW Health to join the fight against COVID-19. 

All hands on deck during COVID-19

According to UNSW, the first phase of the partnership will see 13 experts from two of the UNSW’s public health research centres – the Kirby Institute and the School of Public Health and Community Medicine – joining public health teams in Homebush to increase the operational and research capacity of NSW Health.

According to its website, the Kirby Institute is a global research institute dedicated to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. It was established in 1986 in response to the then emerging HIV epidemic but now contributes to knowledge on a broad range of diseases, including viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections. 

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At the time of writing, infection rates have quickened in the state. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was quoted saying by reports that NSW was at a “critical stage” concerning the virus.

Professor Rebecca Ivers, Head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, said:

“Our experts in public health surveillance, research design and administration will support the incredible teams already working on COVID-19 at NSW Health. They will largely be working on public health containment and contact tracing, and will bring a wealth of knowledge from UNSW’s experience and expertise in responding to infectious disease outbreaks.”

University collaborations are essential

university collaborations
A researcher works on the development of a vaccine against the new coronavirus COVID-19, in Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, on March 26, 2020. Source: DOUGLAS MAGNO / AFP

Meanwhile, the Kirby Institute’s Director, Professor Anthony Kelleher, was quoted saying that these types of partnerships are essential to Australia’s response to COVID-19.

“We must rapidly increase our understanding of COVID-19. Knowledge of this virus, how it moves through communities and what prevents its spread will form the basis of the tools we use to combat it,” said Professor Kelleher.

He added that Kirby Institute, which has a long history of a research partnership with NSW Health, is well poised to support both the day-to-day operations and essential new research on COVID-19 thanks to its existing networks, relationships and surveillance systems.

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Professor Vlado Perkovic, Dean of Medicine at UNSW, said: “The reason UNSW Medicine exists is to address health challenges like COVID-19. The Kirby Institute laboratories have been upgraded to undertake essential research on COVID-19, clinical trial discussions are taking place across the faculty, and our clinical schools are organising to provide frontline medical support for COVID-19.

“These extraordinary times call for extraordinary responses. As our teams mobilise; this is the first of many UNSW Medicine initiatives and partnerships to support the fight against COVID-19.”

The University of Queensland, Oxford University and University of Miami are just some of the universities across the world who are in the race to develop a vaccine for the virus. Universities are fertile grounds for responding to the current global health crisis as they can leverage on their training, expertise and respective technologies for the right solutions.