UN Development Programme

The rapid spread of COVID-19 globally—concurrent with its impact on global supply chain networks of personal protective equipment (PPE) products and medical equipment—has strained national healthcare systems and their ability to safely combat the novel virus. These disruptions have disproportionately affected low and middle-income countries (LMICs), which have limited access to PPE, making it difficult for people to recover their livelihoods and re-open economies.

In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Crisis Bureau and its partners, UW–Madison is working with local stakeholders in LMICs to strengthen the COVID-19 response by providing custom technical assistance. The UW team is utilizing Engineers Without Borders (EWB) COVID-19 Response Framework and drawing from EWB’s and UNDP’s crisis response experience to make contextually appropriate technical recommendations and provide strategic guidance. UNDP country offices are providing industry, government, academic, and healthcare connections and mobilizing the response on the ground, under the auspices of the Crisis Bureau, while UW–Madison is providing consultation and support regarding the technical assistance instruments and the development of roadmap response frameworks for UNDP countries. This may include providing feedback on in-development prototypes and production processes, supporting needs assessment of the country’s healthcare system, and sending relevant documents and resources, among other activities and services.

Technical Assistance

The UW team will support stakeholders in LMICs to strengthen the local COVID-19 response by providing consultation regarding:

  1. Prototyping or supporting the adaptation of products to meet the needs/capabilities of local hospitals and/or the local communities
  2. Providing support in aligning products with international standards
  3. Supporting local universities in the setup of testing facilities and developing broader capacity to facilitate coordination in their local contexts
  4. Providing support in identifying potential supply chains and assistance for manufacturers transitioning to PPE production
  5. Developing software tools to facilitate connections throughout the supply chain by matching materials suppliers to manufacturers of PPE and manufacturers to facilities in need

Roadmap Response Framework

The UW team—alongside EWB volunteers and UNDP country offices—has developed an operational workflow that facilitates a rapid response needs assessment of a country’s healthcare system and the implementation of the technical instruments. This includes:

  1. Understanding the country’s COVID-19 context
  2. Identifying the needs of hospitals and other healthcare facilities
  3. Researching solutions
  4. Evaluating (and iterating) solutions
  5. Fundraising
  6. Prototyping and testing
  7. Preparing for implementation
  8. Implementing solutions and distribution
  9. Monitoring, evaluation, resolution, and learning


Given the complexity of a holistic engagement with the impacts—both current and future—of the pandemic, a working group has been developed, led by faculty advisors, Paul Block (School of Engineering) and Janis Tupesis (School of Medicine and Public Health, UW-Global Health Institute), and administered by the International Projects Office (undergraduate assistant Emily Lakeman is pictured with the EWB volunteers). Based on their expertise, working group members provide ad hoc consultation for different UNDP country teams regarding country COVID-19 response. In addition to UW–Madison faculty, Professors Dana Cook (Marquette University) and Michelle Mellenthin (Colorado Mesa University) are also part of the group (pictured with the EWB volunteers).


“After the Volcán de Fuego eruption in 2018, Rotary and EWB responded together with the construction of seven pedestrian bridges, which provide community access to health clinics, schools, and markets. Strong partnerships were established with the municipalities, the Ministry of Defense, CONRED, and the Guatemalan Army Corps of Engineers. From this experience, we learned that together we can do more, especially in the most trying and uncertain times.”— UW-EWB Volunteer International COVID-19 Engagement Team

“As of July 9th, Guatemala had 626 health workers infected by COVID 19 among the 46 District Hospitals. We checked with the 11 District hospitals that we have worked closely with and only the Nebaj Hospital reported a single case! The Hospital Administrators credit the access to PPE as a key to this result.” — Mike Paddock, EWB Chief Engineer

In March of 2020, Mike Paddock (Chief Engineer, EWB) reached out to the UW–Madison Makerspace to inquire about the Badger Shield, which created an opportunity for Rebecca Alcock and other UW EWB student volunteers to get involved in providing support for various local stakeholders in Guatemala interested in locally producing PPE. For more about this story, click here. Visit the International COVID-19 Response Resources website for more information about the resources and tools they created in English and Spanish.

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UW–Madison Research

“It’s been inspiring to see how our world-class researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have hit the ground running and are on the forefront of fighting COVID-19, by studying the virus from different angles and disciplines. We are committed to the pursuit of excellence in research. What we are doing at the UW–Madison today to help combat COVID-19 is the epitome of the Wisconsin Idea. Together, we are Badger strong.”Steve Ackerman, UW–Madison Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education

A few examples of the UW–Madison research effort to-date includes:

  • An international collaboration of UW virologists and the vaccine companies FluGen and Bharat Biotech is developing and testing a unique vaccine against COVID-19 called CoroFlu.
  • John Yin, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, who uses experimental and computational methods to understand how viruses spread.
  • Song Gao, assistant professor in the Department of Geography, has received an NSF RAPID Grant for his project, “Geospatial Modeling of COVID-19 Spread and Risk Communication by Integrating Human Mobility and Social Media Big Data”

To know more about how UW researchers are contributing to the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

Public Health Innovations

“Hospitals need N95 masks and other critical equipment. Our aim is to provide the shields at cost — and maybe free if donors step forward. We’d like to get 100,000-plus packed up and shipped from Madison to hospitals in need ASAP.”Dr. Lennon Rodgers, Director, Grainger Engineering Design Innovation Lab

Some examples of how UW–Madison has contributed to the current public health needs are:

  • A team of UW–Madison engineers have developed the Badger Seal, a simple and inexpensive do-it-yourself fitter that ensures a tighter mask seal around the wearer’s nose, mouth and face.
  • UW experts from the schools of Ecology and Business, and the College of Engineering have designed masks for the campus from scratch.
  • The College of Engineering has developed Badger Shield, a face shield design that is being used by manufactures to produce personal protective equipment for health care workers treating coronavirus patients and Badger Shield +, a see through mask that was designed for speech pathologists and other essential workers in schools.
  • The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene at UW–Madison is developing test kits that are boosting COVID-19 testing capacity at health care facilities across the state.
  • A speech-language pathologist (SLP) at UW–Madison’s Waisman Center helped develop a set of tools allowing patients on ventilators to communicate.
  • Researchers in the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies (CHESS) are helping providers navigate the transition to telehealth services with specialized trainings and webinars.
  • Zeeh Pharmaceutical Experiment Station partners with UW Health Pharmacy Services to provide vital supplies for healthcare workers.

Economic & Agricultural Engagement

“Farms have unique challenges with the rapidly spreading COVID-19… It has brought the need for business health, safety and continuity planning to the forefront. Now is the time to communicate with employees and family members regarding plans to keep them safe, healthy, and working especially during the busy planting season.”Trisha Wagner, Manager, Extension Farm Management Program

Here are a few examples of how UW–Madison is helping the larger Madison community with economic problems that have arisen due to the pandemic:

  • The UW–Madison Division of Extension is supporting Wisconsin’s farmers with online tools offering guidance on everything from sick leave for employees and routine cleaning to resources about farm management during COVID-19 and released a COVID-19 financial guide highlights resources available to residents across Wisconsin.
  • The COVID-19 Effect on Wisconsin’s Non-profit Sector is a state-wide research collaboration at many University of Wisconsin System campuses to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting quarantine measures on non-profit organizations throughout the state.
  • The Wisconsin Small Business Development Center, part of the Wisconsin School of Business, is helping small businesses navigate frequently updated regulations and policies related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wellness & Education Support

“We watch for prevalent forms of misinformation and develop strategies to correct them based on science and experimentation and rapid-cycle testing. We’ll be looking at the best way to convince sceptical audiences that, say, mosquitoes don’t pass COVID, or that drinking one-fourth bleach and three-fourths water is not a cure for COVID-19.”Professor Dhavan Shah, Professor, UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication

UW–Madison has delved into various projects that provide wellness and education support to the community, locally and state-wide, and here are a few examples:

  • The free COVID-19 Wisconsin Connect app provides accurate information, social support and helpful resources to all residents of Wisconsin.
  • UW–Madison Division of Extension offers food safety tips to assist with buying and preparing food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) have partnered to create the Madison Education Partnership to improve experiences and outcomes for all MMSD students and reduce gaps in opportunity and achievement.
  • Engineers at the UW have created educational and fun touch-screen games for at-home middle and high schoolers on atomic structure, lake pollution and more.
  • State-wide COVID-19 coverage can be found on Wisconsin Public Radio and PBS Wisconsin.