FEATURE: ISRAELI START-UP ECO-SYSTEM LENDING HAND TO WORLD’S FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19

An app that tracks COVID-19 patients around, a special anti-bacterial coating for surfaces, remote patient monitoring tools … the Israeli hi-tech eco-system is exerting efforts to help global health systems tackle COVID-19, one of the biggest health challenges in this century.

Since the outbreak of the virus late last year, Israeli companies have been scrambling to adapt their innovations to the situation.

For many years, Israel has been renowned as “a start-up nation” hosting hundreds of research and development centers and representatives of many multi-national companies.

In the past two decades, thousands of start-up companies have been launched in the country, several of them sold to giants such as Google and Facebook.

Now, the virus crisis provides Israel’s start-up eco-system with an opportunity to rally around a joint cause.

Start-up National Central (SNC), a non-profit organization that surveys Israel’s high-tech and innovation industry, has released a directory with the details of 70 different companies that have varying solutions to the challenges COVID-19 has presented.

“The Israeli brain has extensive experience of times of emergency and thinking outside the box, and we want to do our bit in this difficult hour,” said Eugene Kandel, CEO of SNC, in a press release about the directory.

The e-health companies can be divided into three separate categories: protection and prevention, diagnostic decision support and diagnostic robotics.

According to Lena Rogovin, head of the Digital Health sector at SNC, the companies currently making headway are the more mature ones with products already on the market.

“We have seen a significant increase in sales in the United States, Israel and around the world. Demand has grown among new retail and health organization customers as well as among patients of existing partners in the United States,” said Dedi Gilad, CEO and co-founder of Tyto Care, a leading Israeli company which offers remote monitoring solutions.

Meanwhile, Israel is utilizing big data and other innovations in order to combat the spread of the virus in the country.

Last week, the Israeli government announced almost 15 million U.S. dollars in grants for companies to find coronavirus-busting inventions.

As the Israeli economy suffers a blow from the spread of the virus, there is hope that its thriving hi-tech sector will be able to wither the storm. The majority of exports are from the hi-tech service sector, perhaps making it less vulnerable to the restrictions imposed by many governments due to the virus.

The Israeli eco-system has an advantage of being both strong in the cyber-security sector and digital health. According to Rogovin, this is what makes the local developments attractive to the international market.

“In decision support and diagnostics, there is use of AI algorithms, big data and machine learning. 85 percent of investments last year in digital health were in companies that offered AI solutions,” he explained.

Earlier this week, the health ministry released a COVID-19 dedicated app.

The app will notify users if they have been near a person infected with the virus. While it raised privacy concerns, the ministry assured users that all the information about their whereabouts is stored solely on their phones.

“It saves the individual’s information only on their own phones. The information is highly accurate,” said Morris Dorfman, Head of Regulation, Digital Health & Information Systems Directorate at the Israeli Health Ministry.

The app will cross-reference the information with the epidemiological history it has taken from confirmed carriers of the virus. The user will be alerted if there has been an overlap.

At the Weizmann Institute, one of Israel’s leading scientific research institutions, researchers say they have developed a method by which they can pinpoint COVID-19 outbreak zones ahead of time. The method relies on questionnaires filled out by people. Then, by using big data algorithms and AI, a projection can be made.

“This accurate, neighborhood-level mapping may enable the health authorities to concentrate on areas in which an outbreak and spread of the virus is predicted, while allowing them to ease measures in areas where an outbreak is not expected,” read a press release by the institute.

Many other Israeli innovations are being used worldwide, from remote classroom platforms to technologies that enable remote business operations.

“We will enlist the best minds in Israel in order to efficiently separate the healthy and the sick,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the beginning of the outbreak in the country.

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