Covid19 has created daunting challenges for countries. Countries are struggling between keeping people employed and keeping them safe from COVID19. Many countries imposed complete lock-downs to fight the COVID19 virus. These lock-downs have slowed the spread of COVID19, but created unemployment and humanitarian challenges. Now, after months of lock-down and no end to the virus in sight, countries have little choice but to reopen economies. Technology enabled contact tracing is a powerful ally for countries in balancing economy and safety.
What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is detective work. Once you find an infected person you ask them about their contacts in the last fortnight. Based on this information you then build a spider web of possible virus transmissions and take necessary steps. Contact tracing allows us to isolate the virus when it appears and keep it isolated.
Challenges with contact tracing
Implementation of contact tracing has many challenges
1. Huge investments of resources are needed for contact tracing. It is estimated to cost 3.6 BUSD a year to employ contact tracing staff in the US alone. Hence companies have turned to technology to be the amplifier and make contact tracing affordable. Most countries are leveraging Bluetooth technology to trace contacts with infected people.
2.Leveraging technology and contact tracing in itself, raises concerns on privacy breach. (a) We are dependent on the companies and governments collecting our data to not misuse them. (b) Bluetooth technology can sometimes allow tracing back to the phone and person infected. Thereby violating his/ her privacy.
Safeguarding the individuals privacy cannot be at the cost of effective contact tracing. Blockchain is turning out to be a complimentary tool to the contact tracing system. One which protects user privacy without compromising contract tracing effectiveness. Lets explore how Blockchain achieves this and which countries are turning to Blockchain to help them in contact tracing.
Contact tracing through Blockchain
Blockchain plays a neutral role between the users/patients and the authorities. It provides a solution to the privacy challenge by design. Users now do not have to hope and pray that companies will follow laws and obey regulations with the collected data.
Blockchain protects the identity of the user by encrypting the user and location details. It also anonymyzes the data with keys before transmitting it to the authorities. This makes it impossible to trace the encryption key back to the end user. So while the authorities have access to locations which are hotspots for COVID19 and can quarantine only those pockets. They do not have access to all personal information of the users and patients.
Blockchain is ushering in change in the very design of solutions. It is altering the mindsets of people who design change. This is because blockchain has made it possible to keep the human at the centre while designing change interventions. We no longer need to compromise the human experience and priorities for scale, convenience and in the case of contact tracing safety as well. Blockchain is making human centric change a possibility, tantalisingly within grasp if you consider the number of solutions already deployed.
Contact tracing solutions using Blockchain.
Blockchain technology has a host of start-ups working on creating contact tracing solutions for COVID19. In most cases these blockchain start-ups have partnered with governments and even the WHO to deploy them. Here are a few Blockchain deployments by country and by the start-ups working on them. Here is a non exhaustive list of these blockchain applications which are already live in a few countries, while others are being developed by a few start-ups as we write this.
China was an early adaptor of healthcare technologies. The country is a good example on controlling the outbreak with blockchain. Read more about China’s experiments with blockchain during COVID19 here and here.
Honduras has deployed a privacy first Blockchain based app, called CIVITAS. For instance this application helps in tracking patients while ensuring their privacy. CIVITAS is already live for 25,000 Hondurians. CIVITAS will go live in the 18 regions in Central America as well. Read more here
California , USA
California has deployed Coalition, a contact tracing app. This Blockchain app helps in tracking contact with COVID19 infected people. It keeps details of the infected person private. Yet, it alerts others who have come into contact with the COVID infected person. Coalition application has been built by noodle.io. Do read the interesting details on development, co-operation and deployment here here.
Countries have leveraged blockchain to trace patients of COVID. The WHO is leveraging blockchain to make reliable data accessible to all. WHO has partnered with Oracle, IBM, Hacera, and Microsoft to develop this blockchain. The application will bring together data from various sources in a reliable manner.
Much of the data reported between researchers, clinicians, hospitals and governments is inconsistent. They possibly use different formats to capture and report COVID19 cases. Also, the data cannot be shared easily between stakeholders. Blockchain is bringing all of them together, ensuring privacy and accuracy. Read more here on the IBM blog.
Genobank and Telos team up for Privacy
Many Blockchain apps focus on contact tracing. Sharing one app which focuses on COVID testing. Genobank.io and the Telos Foundation have partnered to develop such an open-source app. This blockchain app allows users to securely source low-cost COVID-19 testing. The results will be stored anonymously on the Telos blockchain. Each user will control their own data and have the ability to share their results with researchers, if they choose. Read more here
MYNGX a Blockchain application on the other hands, helps governments and medical professionals see the spread of COVID19 real time. Governments can see which are safe zones and keep them that way. Thanks to blockchain, the COVID patient details remain private through it all. The blockchain app informs individuals if their recent contacts test positive. Without revealing personal details. The individual can get tested too. Read more here.
Safety not at the cost of Privacy
The trade-off between the economy, personal health, community well-being and individual privacy rights is an important one. It must be deliberated with care. It is in such times of adversity is when the true strength of possibilities emerges. In the spirit of start-ups in the Blockchain world and elsewhere, the Coronavirus isn’t purely viewed as a negative threat. It is also being seen as an opportunity to do good. Will COVID19 lead to a stronger integration of Blockchain in our daily life? The World Economic forum seems to think so.