Belgium is European leader in coronavirus innovations

An international report has ranked Belgium the top country in Europe for innovation relating to the coronavirus, and fourth in the world. Start-ups in Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and Leuven were singled out for praise in the report for their response to the crisis.

The COVID-19 Innovation Report, compiled by the UNAIDS Health Innovation Exchange and the business research centre StartupBlink, ranks 32 countries and 80 cities. Globally, Belgium is behind only the US, Canada and Israel. In the city ranking, Antwerp was 12th, Brussels 18th, Ghent 30th and Leuven 51st.

“Some cities that have been badly hit by the pandemic – New York, Milan, Brussels and Barcelona – have been over-performing in the charts,” the report said. “This is counterintuitive, since these cities faced a major crisis, but still managed to excel and innovate. We have been particularly impressed by the success of Belgium, Switzerland, Estonia, Italy and Ireland, where local entrepreneurs mobilised in the face of the pandemic.”

Among the local companies praised was Ergotrics of Antwerp, which has developed inflatable ventilation pillows for use in intensive care units (pictured above). The company had previously carried out research into the technology’s potential with Ghent University, and studies have shown the benefits of ventilating patients while they lie on their front.

Ergotrics pillows lift patients into an optimal position for ventilation, improving oxygen uptake in the blood. “We saw the incredible efforts of health workers in the fight against the Covid-19 virus,” said CEO Inge Bruynooghe. “The pandemic forced us to give priority to the certification of inflatable prone ventilation support.”

Materialise in Leuven, a 3D printing specialist, has developed fittings that can be attached to door handles, allowing people to open doors without using their hands and reducing the transmission of the virus. The company has made its designs freely available to anyone wishing to print their own.

“By making the design available digitally, it can be produced on 3D printers everywhere and become available around the world in a matter of hours,” said CEO Fried Vancraen. “We designed the product in Belgium, and people in China, Europe or the US can now 3D print the door opener locally.”

Other companies praised in the report were Lasercut in Ghent, which is manufacturing screens and facial protection; Antwerp’s Byteflies, for a patch that can monitor people at home, reduce hospitalisations and reduce pressure on first-line healthcare; and Andaman7 in Brussels, which has developed a free pandemic module in its healthcare app to help patients, hospitals and authorities to manage the crisis.

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