Challenge accepted: Design solutions, legal advocacy
UTS academics on the frontline to address COVID-19 conundrums.
This article is part of a series highlighting the extraordinary work taking place across the University of Technology Sydney in the time of pandemic.
This year, as it became clear COVID-19 was not only going to change our present but also our future, UTS academics collectively chose to meet the moment through innovation.
Deborah Ascher Barnstone is one Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building researcher who has rapidly identified ways to apply her expertise to this crisis. Professor Barnstone is both an international architectural historian and a practicing architect.
Her practice, Ascher Barnstone Design, is collaborating with the charitable foundation P&G Initiatives to design and build structures that can be quickly erected to serve as clinics or COVID-19 testing centres.
“Fortunately in Australia we’ve managed to flatten the curve, however the pandemic is just getting started in developing countries, which are likely to be some of the hardest hit by this disease.
“These structures provide much-improved facilities that are affordable, permanent and portable – they can be moved and deployed swiftly, as needed.”
The first testing centre is now complete, and is currently being used at Campbelltown hospital.
As the Australian COVID-19 case numbers rose rapidly in March and April, Senior Lecturer in Product Design, Berto Pandolfo, along with a team of UTS designers and technicians, researched how 3D printing and clever know-how could help manufacturers address predicted urgent ventilator and face shield shortages.
Now that the curve has flattened in Australia, Pandolfo, an expert in 3D printing and advanced manufacturing, has refocussed his energy on Australia’s dependence on uninterrupted overseas supply chains.
“Just-in-time philosophy is about maximising efficiency, but COVID-19 has highlighted it as a vulnerability, particularly for Australian companies reliant on supplies from overseas,” said Pandolfo.
“More attention is needed to enhance domestic value-adding capabilities, and to develop the strengths of the Australian manufacturing sector. We have the innovation and the skills to be very competitive in producing high-value technical instruments, for instance.
“But, it's not just economic benefits that manufacturing provides us – we need to look broadly at the diverse values that local manufacturing offers Australian society.”
And as COVID restrictions heightened and much was unknown about domestic violence in this new environment, UTS’s Design Innovation Research Centre (DIRC) was asked by Justice NSW to investigate a number of issues and explore potential responses.
In the rapidly changing environment this work is now moving into a range of projects, including exploring possible use of student housing for domestic violence survivors, and identifying what the implications are for employers and employees working from home using video conferencing and issues of domestic violence.
UTS Researcher Samantha Donnelly, a member of the DIRC team working on this research said, “Prior to lockdown, there was already inadequate accommodation for women and children leaving violence.
“The coronavirus crisis has seen an innovative and agile response, with hotel groups and Airbnb homes offered up for emergency housing. However, as pandemic restrictions lift, there are projections that the need will rise even further.
“We need a permanent increase in appropriately designed, safe refuge accommodation to immediately address the devastating impact that violence has on women and children’s lives.”
The law also plays a critical role in times of crisis – informing policy and procedure and holding decision makers to account.
UTS Faculty of Law academics have been active in their research and advocacy, especially in arguing for the protection of some of the most vulnerable in our community at this time.
Professor Thalia Anthony’s extensive body of research work focuses on a range of issues including Indigenous women in prisons, Indigenous deaths in custody, and homelessness and criminalisation.
With the COVID-19 crisis, she turned her immediate attention to advocacy for the prison population and their protection from the virus.
“Ensuring the health and safety of the prison population is crucial for protecting the broader population. The rapid spread of COVID-19 in prisons, due to overcrowding, has a spill over effect to the community. Our research supports the release of people from prison to prevent prisons becoming COVID-19 hotspots,” said Professor Anthony.
Professor Anthony’s work is informing debate both in Australia and internationally, and resulted in policy reforms in NSW and other states. It’s also being cited in court hearings of bail applications and sentencing submissions.
Likewise, UTS Law’s Dr Sara Dehm is researching how legal actions overseas have compelled authorities to release people from immigration detention on health grounds. She’s now looking into how these actions might provide a basis for such advocacy efforts in Australia during the COVID-19 crisis.
"In order for the right to health under international law to be meaningful, states such as Australia need to take immediate and concrete steps to ensure equal access to essential healthcare for all people within their territory, regardless of their status. This includes protecting the health and safety of refugees in immigration detention and undocumented migrants in Australia, through access to COVID-19 testing and safe alternate community accommodation," says Dr Dehm.