Montenegro: How a higher education and innovation project is helping COVID-19 (coronavirus) response

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A health worker. A health worker.

On March 17, Montenegro became the last European country to record a positive COVID-19 test. Since then, the virus has been identified in 201 patients (as of April 4), resulting in two deaths. Over 6,000 citizens are in isolation. As is true for many developing countries, Montenegro is facing massive challenges in responding effectively and rapidly to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, including in gaining access to the necessary diagnostic equipment and expertise. But there is some good news. 

At the Institute for Public Health (IPH) in Podgorica, the capital, doctors are conducting very sensitive tests to detect the coronavirus presence where it is suspected in patients. Like many colleagues across the world, they are relying on highly specialized equipment, the RT-PCR – real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction – machine, which is the most reliable method of virus detection available according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The Institute acquired the machine back in 2015, with support from the World Bank-funded Higher Education and Research for Innovation and Competitiveness (HERIC) project, which focusing on strengthening higher education and research at universities across Montenegro. The investment is now paying off just as the nation needs such highly sophisticated technology the most.

As part of the project, Dr. Igor Pajovic of the University of Montenegro brought the RT-PCR machine to the Institute and provided training to its staff. Dr. Pajovic says that “Now with the COVID-19 outbreak, the Institute is able to use this very sensitive test to quickly and efficiently detect infected patients and to develop appropriate measures to fight COVID-19 pandemic.”

Another university in the capital, the University of Donja Gorica (UDG), received valuable equipment and knowledge as part of the HERIC project. The ProDe laboratory at UDG now has state-of-the-art equipment for 3D printing, scanning, and modeling, as well as for mechanical testing and materials. This technology is now being used extensively to produce protective visors that provide effective shields for medical staff who are treating COVID-19 patients across the country.

3D visor
A health worker wears a 3D printed visor.

Through the HERIC project, the government is demonstrating its commitment to strengthening the quality and relevance of higher education and research. The Ministry of Education has focused on reforming the country’s higher education finance and quality assurance systems, while the Ministry of Science has worked to strengthen innovation, research, and development capabilities. All these measures are vital for the country’s economic development and job creation. Apart from creating a more robust environment for the academic and scientific community, the project has also helped provide access to state-of-the-art training for the country’s young researchers. And that investment is bringing results today, in the rapid deployment of local scientists and technology in the fight against COVID-19.

Minister of Science, Sanja Damjanovic
Minister of Science, Sanja Damjanovic

The Minister of Science, Sanja Damjanovic, notes: “Two out of eight HERIC project-funded academic centers are now directly contributing to the fight against the COVID-19 in Montenegro.” She adds, “All this is yet another great lesson to emphasize the importance of investing in science and research.”

Higher education is instrumental in fostering long-term growth in both low- and middle-income countries. A highly skilled workforce is a prerequisite for a country’s ability to tackle complex challenges like the coronavirus outbreak. 


Roberta Malee Bassett

Global Lead for Tertiary Education and Senior Education Specialist

Danica Ramljak

Senior Science and Innovation Consultant

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