Worried about Ventilators, PPE, supply chains, the economy? You’re focusing on the wrong thing.

** Update ** Finally the UK government has changed strategy to focus on wide scale testing! https://www.ft.com/content/3c9cf7d0-3d11-443e-a156-d111b333fd72

There’s a shortage of ventilators. A shortage of PPE. Supply chains have and will become increasingly disrupted. The fragility of our societies and industries streamlined only for profit is clearly apparent.

Our front line medical workers and other heros lack the PPE to keep them safe whilst they keep our society running. Meanwhile the rest of us are struggling not to touch our faces before we wash our hands and understand the simple message of physical distancing (social distancing).

Despite that we are making progress to slow the spread. And we’re also building ventilators and trying to hack enough PPE to keep our key workers safe [1]. That’s good but we need to focus on the key to unlocking the solution to this problem: Effective quarantine.

The solution to this problem: Effective quarantine

Effective quarantine allows us to temporarily stop infected people from infecting others. For every 30 infections you prevent, you save 3 hospitalisations and the need for a ventilator [see ref 2, table 1 – depends on the age of your population]. You also save the risk of exposing our medical workers and everyone else. You don’t need to worry about PPE. You don’t need to worry about supply chains.

So effective quarantine sounds really useful. How can we get there?

We need to do testing. Testing allows us to tell who is infected. Then we need to do contact tracing to find those people who the infection might have passed on to. And we need to ask them to isolate themselves and then test them after a short period of time.


Why can’t we do enough testing? A UK government representative finally admitted on March 31st:

that the government’s testing capacity is being constrained by the supply of specific chemicals, but the government is working with academics and the private sector to increase the number of test centres


The test used in the UK is a type called qRT-PCR. The viral RNA (the thing which contains the instructions to make more viruses) must first be extracted before the test can be performed. The current manufacturers of those chemicals can not scale up their supply fast enough. They’re holding on to their IP and not even licensing let alone releasing it more freely. This contrasts with ventilator companies who released their IP under time limited copy left licence [4][5].

But what can I do?

Write to your member of parliament and demand the intellectual property around the testing reagents is released or that they license their technology more widely.

For example I sent my MP the following message:

Dear __,

I would be very grateful if you could publicly threaten Qiagen with compulsory licensing of their RNA extraction technology. This is permissible under WTO TRIPS laws. We need this vital intellectual property (IP) in order to scale up testing and defeat this challenge placed upon our communities.

> If a compulsory licence is issued, adequate remuneration must still be paid to the patent holder — Article 31h.
> Compulsory licensing must meet certain additional requirements. [...] usually it must be granted mainly to supply the domestic market.
WTO TRIPS regulations: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/factsheet_pharm02_e.htm

Thank you for your time and for serving the community through this difficult period.
Stay safe,

Mr Alexander James Phillips
Co-founder of the 15,000+ volunteer group HelpfulEngineering.org

=== Interviews ===
BBC (11:45+) https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csy7l6
Also interview with FT, The Times, NYTimes and Vox.

What can I do? – part 2

Put pressure on Qiagen, Roche and others publicly. Use the hash tag #FreeTheTest to encourage them to license their technology to help scale up production of the tests OR release it for free. Remembering that we only need this whilst the demand for testing can not be met by them.

Stay safe everyone. Please share this message!



[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-52111522
[2] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf
[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/world-52101615?pinned_post_locator=urn:asset:5bdad6ff-037e-48a4-8cd2-78991d46cae0
[4] https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/news/world/uks-smiths-makes-ventilator-available-to-other-producers-427699/
[5] https://hackaday.com/2020/03/30/professional-ventilator-design-open-sourced-today-by-medtronic/

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