Vital support for Swiss hospitals

The expected surge in coronavirus patients is pushing Swiss hospitals to the very limits of their capacity. Equipment, consumables and other resources are desperately needed. Researchers right across Switzerland can provide valuable support through pooled resources. The ETH Domain has set up a dedicated platform "Academic Resources for COVID" to coordinate their efforts.

As the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly, experts expect a sharp rise over the coming weeks in the number of patients who need to be hospitalised. Swiss hospital capacity is therefore likely to be stretched to the limit.

Matching demand and supply

Equipment and consumable materials are currently standing around in Swiss universities and research institutes which are barely being used now that laboratory work has been run down to a bare minimum. These materials are badly needed in hospitals, however.
Researchers in the ETH domain eager to pool their efforts to defeat the epidemic have therefore been working under intense pressure to create a platform that coordinates demand from the medical sector with the resources of Swiss research. The platform is open to all members of institutions in the extended Switch Community, in other words all Swiss universities and related organisations.

As of 22 March, scientists can access the Sharepoint site "Academic Resources for COVID" to offer not just equipment, consumables and resources, but also specialist staff. The webpage displays an up-to-date list of requests from healthcare bodies showing exactly what is needed and where. The platform is coordinated by Roman Stocker, ETH Professor at the Environmental Engineering Institute. This is just of the initiatives launched by the Swiss Scientific COVID-19 Task Force of the ETH Domain, a team led by ETH Professor Martin Ackermann, head of the Environmental Microbiology department at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, EAWAG.

Time is precious

"In this crisis, everyone realises how essential it is to get the right resources to where they are needed as quickly as possible," says Roman Stocker. "So we’re glad to be able to do our bit by launching this platform for the entire Swiss research sector and get it up and running."
Hospitals are being asked to direct their requests to the Coordinated Care Service. These requests will then be coordinated by Spiez Laboratory, also a federal institution and a specialist in NBC protection. They are then forwarded to the platform and processed immediately by a team of ETH doctoral assistants and postdocs who are working flat out, seven days a week.

Encouraging feedback

Initial impressions are very promising. "The feedback from both the healthcare and research sectors is very positive; the platform meets an urgent need. We have already managed to arrange several transfers of resources," says Sebastian Bonhoeffer, ETH Professor for Theoretical Biology and one of the scientists who helped to get the platform off the ground.
It’s worth noting that demand is not only for specialist equipment: hospitals are currently also glad to receive basic consumables, such as centrifuge tubes. "This is just one of the ways that we scientists can make an immediate and direct contribution," says Sebastian Bonhoeffer. "We therefore encourage every researcher and manager in Swiss laboratories to think about what they can contribute - and to use the platform as much as possible over the coming weeks."

Norbert Staub