VIENNA, 20 April - The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of quality infrastructure (QI) in order to meet essential societal needs: maintaining reliable standards in laboratory testing of samples; ensuring safely manufactured medical supplies and personal protective equipment; and continuing trading within essential value chains.
Knowledge transfer, the sharing of best practices and convening are crucial to these efforts. In this context, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) recently held an experts’ webinar entitled, “Quality, Testing and Standards in the Fight against COVID-19”, with partners in several international QI institutions, including the International Organization for Standardization (ISO); International Accreditation Forum (IAF); International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM); and International Network of Quality Infrastructure (INetQI). The webinar attracted significant interest for an expert panel, with some 370 online attendees from all continents and 64 countries, who posted over 140 questions to the panel on QI-related issues.
Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, Director of UNIDO's Department of Trade, Investment and Innovation, stressed UNIDO’s “People, Planet, Prosperity” approach, while noting the massive disruption to trade and supply chains as well as human health. He added that QI needs to be put in place at the policy level, especially concerning laboratories, where countries are often unprepared for emergencies. He said that the crisis is a “disruptive moment, in which there is an opportunity to change for the better”.
Sean MacCurtain, Director of Conformity Assessment and Consumer Affairs, ISO, said that ISO had made a number of standards freely available since the beginning of the pandemic, including ISO 22301 on Business Continuity and ISO 31000 on Risk Management, noting also that many of the most affected member states had freely shared their experiences. He stressed the need for further cooperation between QI institutions and the need for reflection on the lessons learned from the pandemic.
Merih Malmqvist Nilsson, Chair, INetQI, observed that testing and conformity assessment have a crucial role in fighting the pandemic. She noted that laboratories should be treated as an essential service during lockdowns, and that conformity assessment had become a crucial consideration for policymakers. She underlined the centrality of global trust throughout value chains and stressed four factors for future QI: embracing new technology; a “triple bottom line” of functionality, safety and sustainability; addressing the Sustainable Development Goals; and contingency plans for risks.
Andy Henson, Director, International Liaison and Communication Department, BIPM, said that while it is challenging to keep laboratories operational at the moment, crucially, the availability of international databases are allowing remote operations to continue. He noted that test results are needed to measure the effect of COVID-19 on the population, as are measurements for the performance of PPE. He also underlined the role of metrology, saying that “if you’re not getting the right answer in this sort of crisis, you have a disaster beyond the obvious disaster”.
Jianhua Xiao, Chief Executive, IAF, said that IAF had informed its stakeholders on how to respond to the outbreak, especially with regard to IAF MD 4 on the use of ICTs for auditing/assessment purposes, as well as providing frequently asked questions for further guidance. He added that IAF’s main priority was to support national accreditation and certification bodies during the crisis, to ensure robust accreditation and certification to facilitate trade, to support regulators and protect consumers.
This webinar is one of a series of QI-themed e-panels that UNIDO intends to organize in the near future, addressing how QI can contribute to crisis management and development internationally.
For further information, contact:
Juan Pablo Davila, Industrial Development Officer, Department of Trade, Investment and Innovation.