Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is spreading across the world and is proving difficult to manage because the regional clustering of the outbreak has moved globally. We know that limited data is coming directly from individuals in the healthcare community regarding COVID-19.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has partnered on March 28, 2020, with major blockchain and tech companies to launch a distributed ledger technology (DLT)-based platform for sharing data concerning the coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, there are organizations which are continually tracking how COVID-19 is affecting people in real-time. These firms are keeping the public informed about the latest information and studies on the pandemic to create more awareness about the disease and its spread.
While the most popular way of sharing information on COVID-19 is via API and databases, blockchain is yet another technology to supplement API data and ensure that there is transparency.
In this article, we take a look at some of the prominent blockchain projects which are focused on tracking COVID-19.
MiPasa is a blockchain consortium formed recently when technology companies like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and Hacera collaborated with health organizations including WHO, Hong Kong Department of Health, Government of Canada, USA CDC, and John Hopkins University.
MiPasa has been launched in partnership with:
- IBM, the technology company,
- Oracle, the computer firm,
- Hacera, the enterprise blockchain platform, and
- Microsoft, the IT corporation.
The platform purports to facilitate “fully private information sharing between individuals, state authorities and health institutions.”
The project cross-references siloed location and health data is “siloed” on the platform to glean global insights while ensuring patient privacy, with MiPasa describing the platform as a “verifiable information highway.” MiPasa is slated to soon host an array of publicly accessible analytics tools too.
According to the project’s website:
“MiPasa can help monitor and foresee local and global epidemiological trends and detect likely asymptomatic carriers by feeding big data on infection routes and occurrences to powerful AI processors around the world.”
These organizations came together to form a blockchain network called MiPasa to share data concerning the coronavirus pandemic. MiPasa is written on top of Linux Hyperledger Fabric, and attempts to facilitate quick detection of COVID-19 transmitters and epidemic hotspots.
MiPasa is intended to secure and integrate data sources, label their differences, improve and recognize errors or misreporting, and smoothly combine reliable new feeds. According to MiPasa, the tool can assist technologists, data scientists, and government health officials by providing them with the data they require at scale to answer and devise solutions that can help overcome the outbreak of COVID-19.
Also, MiPasa is maintained by a group of health experts across different disciplines, software and app developers, and privacy specialists who are all acting together to obtain secure and quality data, and make it readily available to relevant entities. IBM has been amongst the initial benefactors of the Unbounded Network, which is encouraging more partners to cooperate openly through open and private blockchains since 2018.
Other Companies Tracking COVID-19
- Acoer: In February 2020, Acoer, a software development company, rolled out its coronavirus tracker called HashLog data visualization engine. The tool communicates in real-time with Hedera Hashgraph public blockchain. Similar to other coronavirus dashboards, it helps people know about the spread of the pandemic and other insights from the data. According to Jim Nasr, the CEO of Acoer, blockchain can be a source of truth and a reference to the accountability of data. For Jim, blockchain is supplementary to existing APIs used to source data. The blockchain takes in all the data from all sorts of sources via APIs. The Hedera blockchain, on which the solution is built, can then verify whether or not the data has tampered at any stage. The real-time audit trail of the COVID-19 data can be verified on the public blockchain Hedera DLT. Hedera was chosen because of the high throughput of the network compared to other existing blockchains.
- Telos: Blockchain company Telos Foundation collaborated with GenoBank to create a side chain on the Telos public blockchain for storing COVID-19 test data. The GenoBank products contain QR codes, which can be scanned after the patient has been tested. Once the code has been scanned, and the test has been transferred to the lab, results will be loaded to the Telos blockchain automatically in a way that preserves the privacy of the user. The anonymous test information can be gathered on a patient and immediately pushed to the blockchain network, which is secured cryptographically using Proof of Stake consensus between the nodes. However, an Agerona mobile application user can obtain a specialist for the test kits in their nation, and additionally, purchase individually from the app to improve the anonymity of the user. When a user gets the test, they can scan the test’s unique barcode and link it with an easily accessible and anonymous account on the Telos side chain that only the user manages. The test kit may next be anonymously mailed to a supporting testing lab. The acceptance and processing of the tests can be traced to Telos for transparency and accountability of data. The results are recorded on the blockchain, but with no link to any particular user. Researchers will be capable of analyzing aggregate data from the blockchain along with minimum geographic knowledge if produced to track the development and outbreak of the disease accurately.
- Algorand: Algorand also announced a survey designed to collect an open database on the extent, status, and symptoms of the COVID-19 pandemic across various geographies. On March 27, Algorand said that its ‘IReportCovid’ survey app would offer a global data repository that updates in real-time to notify about pandemic mitigation endeavors. The survey’s results will be recorded on the blockchain attempts to address the lack of real-time data about the pandemic coming from individuals in the community. Survey responses are publicly pushed to the Algorand blockchain to provide permanent open access to the data. Algorand will publish aggregate statistics and provide tools for analyzing the database as data is collected from the questionnaire, which can support and inform the people and examine the pandemic.
COVID Near You
Other than that, tech workers from Apple, Amazon and Google are building coronavirus tracker.
COVID Near You was built by a group of tech volunteers to help the public easily report COVID-19 symptoms or testing activity. By using these reports, the tracker maps this information to provide local and national views of the illness. The site is a sister tool of Flu Near You, a brainchild of Ending Pandemics and Boston Children’s Hospital.
Latest News Update on “Covidnearyou”
As mentioned above, a group of thirty volunteers, recently, from tech companies like Apple, Amazon, and Alphabet put together a website called “covidnearyou” that aims to track the coronavirus as it spreads.
The idea started when Prem Ramaswami, the Head of product at Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, and his wife, started feeling sick more than a week ago. When he tried to get a test for the coronavirus, his doctor told him that it would not be possible. According to Ramaswami, he was denied access to the test because he hadn’t been in touch with anyone who had tested positive.
Ramaswami, who previously worked on health projects at Google, wondered how he could help others in the same boat. So, he got in touch with John Brownstein, an Epidemiologist and Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital, to volunteer his services. Brownstein is well-known to the tech world as he has consulted with companies like Google and Uber on public health projects for years, including the Google Flu Project, which tracked the spread of the flu.
Once they jumped on a call, Brownstein informed him about a website that was already underway to monitor influenza, called “flunearyou.” The pair decided to co-opt the underlying technology for better COVID-19 monitoring, given the current gap in testing. That led to the idea of developing “covidnearyou.”
But Ramaswami realized that he couldn’t do it on his own. So, he pulled together a group of friends and acquaintances from the tech world to help out. Employees from Apple, Amazon, MongoDB, CloudFlare, Alphabet and other tech companies agreed to build the site but defer to the public health experts on the content.
“I’m a tech guy, not a doctor. We are here to help the medical experts and take their direction.”
Healthy individuals who participate are asked to fill out the information about their gender, age and zip code, and whether they have received a flu vaccine. The site also includes a map of the various states and shows where the outbreaks are.
Those who are feeling sick are prompted to describe their symptoms, such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. They are also asked if they have traveled recently and if they have been in direct contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19.
In future iterations, the team plans to add more symptoms as medical professionals release more information about the coronavirus. For example, some doctors are now saying such as digestive ailments and lack of smell should be added to the list that the public should know about, alongside fever and respiratory issues.
According to Brownstein, the data will be shared with public health groups and not with the various tech companies.
However, the project’s volunteers say that they are continuing to work on the site while juggling their day jobs.
“Many of us are working on this from 3 pm to 9 pm after work, and our spouses are helping take on the load with childcare. But people in tech are hungry to help out right now.”
As coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, it’s not unfamiliar to suggest that during this current coronavirus epidemic, thousands of lives could have been spared and billions of dollars in current and future economic losses saved.
Blockchain makes data on a platform tamper-proof and traceable. So, in the event of an epidemic, it can help gather precise acquisition of data, and dismiss false information by verifying a complete data audit trail. Thus, it helps citizens and authorities manage an outbreak in an efficient manner.