It’s no secret that the COVID-19 outbreak is having a massive impact on a wide range of fields. Among the more crucial ones are the economy and global trade systems. The humongous effect the virus has on both perfectly highlights an urgent need for global cooperation. We are in dire need of proper maintenance in order to boost the resilience of international supply chains.This is where blockchain technology gets its moment to shine; COVID-19 blockchain capabilities are now available.
COVID-19 blockchain solutions
Innovative and reliable, blockchains have a unique design that is fit for validating, securing, and sharing data. They are the ideal tool for the management of transactions that are multi-party, inter-organizational, and cross-border. The past five years have been eventful for this technology, with enterprises worldwide examining the technology with a variety of proofs of concept.
Blockchain is the talk of the town, so it must have achieved mainstream adoption, right? Wrong.
Even with all this attention and praise, live deployments are proving to be very slow. This is primarily because partners utilizing blockchain as a shared ledger need to come to an agreement on certain factors. The most important ones being IP rights, governance, and business models. Not only that, but government regulations have also hindered its widespread use.
It’s funny to think that it takes a pandemic to finally conquer the obstacles to blockchain adoption. The virus is gradually revealing the glaring weaknesses in our supply chains and exposing our inability to deploy resources to places in need. What’s more, it is revealing the difficulties regarding the capture and sharing of data we need to make decisions in handling it. Blockchain solutions that are still under development are now undergoing refurbishment in order to address these challenges.
There is a series of continuous efforts in fighting COVID-19. Universities, medical academia, the private sector, and even private citizens are all incorporating distributed systems into their strategies.
The projects are making great attempts to reinforce governmental stay-at-home orders that are trying to “flatten the curve.” At this point in time, there is no cure for COVID-19 and there likely won’t be for a good amount of time. For that matter, there will be no vaccine against the coronavirus for a while; a year at best.
This leaves medical practitioners, researchers, and innovators trying their hardest to find ways of reducing its impact. If they cannot completely eliminate the virus, they can at least mitigate their effects. Their secret weapon towards achieving this is blockchain boosters.
One notable avenue lies in contact tracing. A professor at Villanova University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Hasshi Sudler, is leading the development of a permissioned blockchain. This is specifically for doctors and is a useful tool in tracing positive COVID-19 cases. It has the potential to get ahead of future outbreaks. Sudler talks about the advantage of blockchain:
“Medical institutions, whether they know each other or not, whether they trust each other or not, can exchange information about who they know that is infected and maintain contact with who is infected.”
With these ongoing efforts, the need is abundantly clear. There is a large number of countries that are enacting lockdowns, hoping to prevent the virus’s spread. As a result, there are massive unemployment numbers and three may be a recession on the horizon. That is if we are not already at that point.
All around the world, there are an array of initiatives that are racing to finish development. Some are already at the point of deployment.
Colonel James Allen Regenor, USAF (ret) is worth mentioning when discussing this topic. Since 2013, he’s been a pretty busy man, building a platform that receives power from blockchain technology. The purpose of the platform is to buy and sell traceable 3-D printed parts, as well as printing instructions for them. In addition, it prints traditionally manufactured parts that undergo scanning and receive unique tracking identifiers.
He was the leader of the project at Moog, whose specialty was designing and manufacturing complex motion controls. Particularly for aerospace and medical uses. Following this leadership role, he would go on to found VeriTX in 2019 to introduce the platform to the market. Regenor’s construction of the platform was out of a desire to facilitate a decentralized manufacturing process. With it, customers are able to order and print parts for use, whenever and wherever they need them. For example, they can use it to order and print important medical devices. The blockchain ensures tamper-proof design and printing instructions.
Eventually, Regenor would come to the realization that his platform could be a big help in the wake of the coronavirus. With his invention, he could create the medical devices necessary for virus mitigation. Knowing this, he got to work by building a new company, Rapid Medical Parts, in March of 2020. He would then rally a global network of partners. In a matter of 12 days, the Pentagon would contract his company with an important task. They need them to convert the considerably large supply of sleep apnea machines into ventilators.
This conversion, of course, requires additional parts that Rapid Medical Parts will print. Moreover, they will do so at a tenth of what a new ventilator would normally cost. The units will be in hospitals by the middle of this month.
In order for a COVID-19 tracing app to be useful, it obviously needs to go viral. That might be tricky, especially with concerns about privacy running high now more than ever. While these worries are understandable, they are the reason why a contact tracing app achieving voluntary adoption is very tricky. Governments all over the globe are starting to weigh a diverse collection of privacy-enhancing designs. A good number of them claim that an app would be voluntary to begin with. However, they are not ruling out the possibility of making it compulsory.
Only 10-20% of the Singapore population is adopting the TraceTogether. The country’s government is now calling on everyone who is capable of doing so to download it. Over in the U.K, experts believe that roughly 60% of the population would have to download the app to make it work properly. Overall, this equates to 80% of all smartphones functioning in the country.
In the meantime, we are seeing a digital divide between approaches using centralization and decentralization. As a whole, the debate turns on whether pseudonymous data is in the storage on centralized servers or remains on the phone. Privacy advocates will probably be quite easy-going when it comes to a solution with the involvement of Apple and Google. Be that as it may, the question concerning voluntary mass adoption of the app has yet to be seen.
The nimble startups are not the only ones that are utilizing blockchain solutions to fight the virus. A wide variety of organizations are doing the same. Some of these include the World Health Organization, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and an array of other tech companies. Government agencies and international health organizations are also partnering in the construction of a blockchain-based open data hub. This hub is MiPasa.
The enterprise blockchain firm, HACERA, is responsible for the creation of this platform. Its overarching goal is to quickly and accurately detect carriers of COVID-19 carriers. Moreover, it aims to detect infection hotspots in the world. MiPasa will securely share information among individuals, hospitals, and authorities that will aid in public health analysis.
The system creates digital identifiers that are impossible to link back to the data source. What’s more, it prevents the circulation of identifiable information on a personal level. MiPasa effectively validates the data by way of reconciling disparate data sources. This includes figures from WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and various others. In doing so, it ensures that new data perfectly matches the original.
IBM provides further explanation in its Blockchain Blog:
“MiPasa is designed to … synthesize data sources, address their inconsistencies, help identify errors or misreporting and seamlessly integrate credible new feeds.”
The platform allows global health organizations and companies to safely collaborate and share information. At the same time, it assures solid privacy protection. By doing this, MiPasa will likely become a vital tool in helping control the virus spread. The co-founder of MiPasa and HACERA CEO, Jonathan Levi, says:
“We have a huge community of organizations supporting and helping – instead of resistance at every step of the decision-making process we are getting uplifted and pushed forward every step of the way.”
Healthcare and supply chains
Tech startup, Tymlez, is entering into a partnership with the Dutch government in a technology consortium. They are utilizing its network modeling technology as a way to map and analyze the chain of medical supplies. This will provide the foundation for a decentralized marketplace that uses blockchain technology.
Says the Chief Technology Officer of Tymlez, Jaap Gordijn:
“Creating transparency about time-sensitive and critical supplies such as PPE and ventilators reduces the risk of price hoarding, quality issues, and even fraud in the network.”
Fadime Kaya, the company’s Senior Blockchain Ecosystem Architect, adds to this:
“If everybody in the network has the same information about product and product availability, if there is a single version of the truth, available to all actors in the network, we can enable critical product distribution to where the need is greatest.”
Also jumping on this bandwagon is the Honduran government and another startup. They are rolling out a healthcare blockchain solution whose design focuses primarily on data privacy. According to a report from Coindesk, the app, Civitas, allows medical professionals to share confidential data. Specifically, data that enables patients to travel to care facilities in spite of the orders to remain at home.
Civitas gives police the ability to verify if the patient has any right to travel. This is regardless if they do not have access to the patient’s medical record. Furthermore, it permits the government to develop more accurate and real-time data that covers the distribution of infection.
The Canadian technology company, VitalHub Corp, made an important announcement last month concerning their own incorporation of blockchain. They would be conducting the first deployment of a coronavirus screening tool that utilizes blockchain technology. The organization that will use this tool will be Sunny Side Home, a Region of Waterloo-owned long-term care facility.
According to what was said in the announcement, a request by Sunnyside Home was the reason for DOCit’s development. This is an app with blockchain being its power source that will help to scan residents for recurring COVID-19 symptoms. The tool aims to deploy and arrange any screening or recurring task. In doing so, it will enable reporting standards for care providers and operations staff. It will also implement standards for National, Provincial, or Regional health authorities.
Sunnyside Homes administrator, Julie Wheeler, comments the following on the value of electronic screening during this ongoing pandemic:
“When we reached out to VitalHub to help us with resident screening they were able to develop and implement something in 24 hours. Every minute counts when it comes to safety, having the capacity to respond to our needs so quickly is what every Long-Term Care Home needs.”
Among its range of features, DOCit also records all visible symptoms. Common ones include respiratory diseases, headaches, fever, and shortness of breath. Afterward, it shares them in real-time. According to Sunnyside Home, this is so that the system can lessen the risk of virus transmission.
VitalHub CEO, Dan Matlow, talks about the solution that his company presents:
“As a home-specific, configurable assessment, the DOCit solution provides a more in-depth analysis of COVID patients, equipping care providers with the ability to identify symptom trending and clusters of affected individuals quickly and early on, which we have learned is of critical importance in fighting the pandemic.”
How China uses it
More often than not, China is one of the driving forces behind a new trend. Unsurprisingly, this is one of them. The country is enjoying the leadership position in utilizing blockchain in the fight against COVID-19.
According to a Cointelegraph report, there are approximately 20 blockchain applications that launched to address the virus. And this was all in the span of two weeks in February, which is impressive. Among them is an online screening system that provides secure management of health records. Another is a platform that backs the handling, allocation, and donation of essential relief supplies.
In Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, Vastchain Technology recently made the reveal of Access Pass. This is a mini-program on WeChat that is capable of generating QR codes. With them, residents can enter heavily gated communities. In the company’s own words, all personal information it collects will be encrypted and go into storage on cloud servers. These servers, as you might expect, get their power from the blockchain. The company itself cannot retrieve the original data, plus it will publicly eliminate the data following the pandemic’s eventual conclusion.
TRACEsafe is another blockchain-based technology. It uses disposable bracelets to enforce quarantine programs, particularly for foreign visitors trying to enter Hong Kong. In a report from Barron’s, hospitals are using these products for infant monitoring in maternity wards. They are also useful in monitoring visitors to elder care facilities.
Organizations need all the help they can get to improve future pandemic preparedness and execute an economic rebound after COVID-19. The World Economic Forum is here to help with that, releasing the Redesigning Trust: Blockchain Deployment Toolkit. This handy tool allows leaders to expand the benefits and decrease the risks that come from technology. Supply chain resilience depends entirely on trust, transparency, and integrity. All of these factors can improve with the trustworthy deployment of blockchain technologies that offer a “shared truth.”
The pandemic emphasizes the requirement for businesses and governments to improve the sincerity and provenance of pharmaceutical products and medical supplies. The same can be said for food, various goods, and industrial and consumer products.
This one-of-a-kind toolkit is the outcome of more than a year of continuous efforts. Its goal is to collect the best practices from blockchain deployment that exist across an array of industries. The toolkit draws on the global expertise of over 100 organizations, including the following:
- Civil society
- Academic institutions
- International organizations
- Technology and supply chain experts
It will aid companies in the management of complex deployments of this new technology. What’s more, it will increase its positive impact.
Building a better future
Blockchains – as well as other technologies – have the potential to help build a better future. To use them in such a way, leaders need to protect data privacy and be straightforward about data usage. More often than now, a crisis of any kind can provoke widespread paranoia and deterioration of individual freedoms.
With that in mind, we must consider the power of blockchain. That is the inherent ability to share data and do so without ever revealing any personal information. If they have that design, users can reap the benefits. In the midst of fighting COVID-19, there is a demand for leaders to follow the examples of those mentioned above. Organizations and platforms like Rapid Medical Parts and MiPasa are all seeing blockchain as a secret weapon.