In conversations with friends and family members, Lameese Eldesouky, an associate professor of psychology at the American University in Cairo, noticed a great difference in how people respond to the novel coronavirus crisis.
“Some people live in denial and act as if nothing has changed,” said Eldesouky. “On the other hand, others went to religion seeking salvation from the epidemic. Others went towards distracting activities such as watching TV to just pass the time.”
The variations Eldesouky noticed prompted her to launch a scientific study of the strategies Egyptians were adopting, even unconsciously, to adapt to the changes imposed on daily life in an effort to halt the virus and the disease it causes, Covid-19.
“The research aims to raise people’s awareness of how they deal with the crisis,” she said. Projects like hers contribute to Egypt’s entrance into the field of psychological research to monitor the pandemic’s consequences, she said, as opposed to therapeutic research, which focuses on countering the virus.
Eldesouky’s study is one of 10 research projects the American University in Cairo recently started to fund as part of an effort to support coronavirus-related research in various disciplines, such as physics, biology, psychology, sociology, education and business administration.
“We can transform our knowledge into a societal value.”Alaa El-Din Adris
Associate provost for research, innovation and creativity at the American University in Cairo
The university has allocated a budget of about 25 million Egyptian pounds (about $1.6 million) to support this research, which focuses on serving the Egyptian community and providing sustainable short and long-term solutions to the Covid-19 crisis.
“We can transform our knowledge into a societal value,” said Alaa El-Din Adris, a professor of practice and associate provost for research, innovation and creativity at the American University in Cairo.
Studies of Scientific and Social Topics
Some of the funded projects focus on scientific subjects, such as a study of enzymes that affect the ability of the virus to reach the lungs, in an attempt to explain the pandemic’s prevalence and the difference in mortality rates between the sexes and between Egyptians and people of other countries.
“What we are trying to study now is whether there are genetic mutations in the Egyptian people that lead to fewer infections,” said Anwar Abd Elnaser, an assistant professor and researcher at the AUC’s Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology. “We do this study mathematically based on data from 1,000 healthy Egyptian people and compare it with the genetic map of other peoples.”
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
Other research focuses on the social aspects of the health emergency, such as a study on social protection for people facing irregular employment because of the pandemic, another on designing a roadmap for business growth in the time of Covid-19, and another on the response of social media to the pandemic.
“We are currently witnessing a lot of business turmoil and a state of uncertainty, whether at the social or economic level,” said Mohab Anis, a professor of electronics and communications engineering at the American University in Cairo who is in charge of the business-growth study. “We are focusing on studying the forces affecting the private sector in general and the services sector in particular.”
The projects that professors and researchers will undertake at the university were chosen based on several criteria, including an assessment of their potential impact, the quality of the work plan, the realism of the research’s idea, the effectiveness of budget estimates, and the skill set of the team submitting the research proposal, according to Adris, the associate provost for research.
“All this research is working to analyze and understand the effects of the current crisis in a way that helps prepare for the next stage,” he said.
Emphasizing the Importance of Research
Egypt suffers from a lack of resources allocated to research in general. The nation’s spending on research is less than 0.7 percent of its gross domestic product, according to Unesco statistics. That level is contrary to the Egyptian constitution’s stipulation that the percentage should not be less than one percent.
This relatively low level of spending overall was reflected in the funding of research related to the novel coronavirus, which did not exceed 100 million Egyptian pounds (about $6.2 million). (See a related article, “Health and Economic Crises Threaten Arab Funding for Research.”)
“Universities’ work is not only related to education; scientific research is also a major role that should not be overlooked.”Hani Al-Husseini
A professor of mathematics at Cairo University’s Faculty of Science.
“I think the current crisis has shed light on the importance of supporting research and spending on it for the benefit of society,” said Adris.
Leaders at other institutions apparently share Adris’s view. Several Egyptian public universities have announced initiatives to support research similar to the one at the American University in Cairo.
In May, Muhammad Othman Elkhosht, president of Cairo University, announced that the university would fund eight research projects to combat the coronavirus, at a cost of about 5 million Egyptian pounds ($313,000), for scientific and laboratory research. The university also approved 30 other research proposals to be funded by 9 million pounds ($563,000). In addition, five research teams were formed from the Faculties of Science, Medicine and Pharmacy and the National Institute of Oncology, and were initially funded by 10 million pounds ($625,000) to conduct clinical research and experiments to confront the novel coronavirus epidemic.
Zewail City of Science, Technology and Innovation has previously announced and is working on five research projects to tackle the coronavirus, conducted by a number of researchers and university professors.
Recently, the minister of higher education, Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, announced that Egypt ranked first among the countries of the Middle East and Africa in carrying out experiments to find a cure for Covid-19. Abdel-Ghaffar based his comment on information published by ClinicalTrials.gov, a database of clinical studies conducted around the world. Egyptian universities and research centers carried out 22 out of the 30 clinical experiments on Covid-19 conducted in Africa, he said.
“Universities’ work is not only related to education, scientific research is also a major role that should not be overlooked,” said Hani Al-Husseini, a professor of mathematics at Cairo University’s Faculty of Science. “What we are going through today is an opportunity to confirm this role and highlight its importance.”