Research projects designed to help children with Autism learn from home, enforce quarantine measures, and safeguard the mental health of healthcare workers are among those to be supported through a new, streamlined funding call launched by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) to help Qatar combat Covid-19.
QNRF, a Qatar Foundation (QF) member and the region’s leading research funding agency – has developed the Rapid Response Call (RRC) from scratch in record time, and accelerated the evaluation and funding phases to ensure that the proposed outcomes of awarded projects are met as soon as possible.
The call aims to encourage researchers to participate in providing impactful and innovative solutions on a fast-track basis, through research projects that support Qatar’s efforts to mitigate Covid-19 and its effects. Under the inaugural cycle of RRC, QNRF received 230 proposals from researchers across Qatar, and, after a thorough competitive scientific and technical review process, 21 research proposals were selected to receive funding. Researchers will be awarded grants worth up to QR 100,000 each and three months to complete their projects.
Dr Abdul Sattar al-Taie, executive director of QNRF, said, “ At a time when we are in the grip of a global pandemic, QNRF has decided to ramp up its efforts to assume research leadership not only in the region, but in the world, by rolling out a special research programme covering a wide spectrum of sectors currently faced with unprecedented challenges posed by the spread of Covid-19.”
“A programme like the RRC meets the needs of the hour, as an effective response requires evidenced research for study prior to shaping an informed response to the impact of such crises and the building of effective solutions and policies going forward. Through RRC, we aim to instill agility in, and build the robustness and resilience of, Qatari institutions in order to address the challenges posed by Covid-19 to various sectors,” he added.
Dr Dena A al-Thani, assistant professor at the College of Science and Engineering in Hamad Bin Khalifa University, and an awardee under the RRC said, “Children with autism exhibit attention deficit disorder and other communicational and behavioral challenges that hinder them from communicating online using the traditional setting of online teaching. This means parents are left in misery, without tools to help their children continue learning from home.

“Our project proposes an augmented reality application that provides a holistic remote learning platform which children with Autism can benefit from, especially at the present time when the whole world is in lockdown and children are being taught remotely.”

Another award recipient, Dr Amber Haque, professor of Clinical Psychology at Doha Institute of Graduate Studies, is conducting a research project that probes the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of healthcare workers. He said: “We feel the Rapid Response Call by QNRF is a perfect opportunity to emphasize mental health needs during and post this pandemic.

“Our research team has identified reliable and valid instruments for measuring anxieties and coping responses of potential frontline healthcare worker participants, including doctors, nurses, and paramedics that explore any differences related to factors such as age, gender, education, and work experience.”

A research project that aims to develop an effective mechanism for ensuring quarantine measures are adhered to is also one of the awarded proposals. Dr Hamid Menouar, product manager at Qatar Mobility Innovations Centre and a member of the research team, said,

“Our project tackles the quarantine enforcement issue, which will be relevant even after the crisis, and in case of future waves of Covid-19. We have developed a smart bracelet that acts as a virtual link between the user and their smartphone. The bracelet is not designed to sense any health characteristics, but is only used for making sure that the user is physically close to their smartphone. By monitoring the location of the smartphone, we can ensure if the user is abiding by quarantine measures through a cost-effective mechanism."