Covid-19 is rapidly paralysing every aspect of life across the globe, but the work-from-home government directives have provided an innovation environment where solutions are fast being birthed in emerging technologies to contain the virus.
The latest viable global solution, experts say, lies in blockchain technology and Big Data.
In its simplest explanation, blockchain is a chain of blocks, with each block containing transactions of data and a hash of the previous block. A hash is a unique combination of letters and numerals. It is like a fingerprint for the data in that block.
Because the chain is decentralised, it chronologically and publicly records all transactions in the network, it is the perfect technology to host and share sensitive health data.
A blockchain system is like a digital ledger or list, and is held and updated by anyone in the chain, so it is a peer-to-peer platform that eliminates intermediaries. There is no transaction that can successfully join the chain without being validated by nodes (users) and new transactions create a complexity that locks out hackers.Big Data is the set of technologies and tools used to analyse huge volumes of both structured and unstructured data, a task that cannot be achieved using traditional analysis methods.
The analysis of data consisting of billions to trillions of records of millions of patients, from different sources is an example of Big Data in action.
In an optimistic step to tame the novel coronavirus, American enterprise startup Hacera has teamed up with tech companies IBM and Oracle to launch a blockchain technology project, MiPasa, that will rely on Big Data.
“I don’t think we have just a few more weeks to go, unfortunately, and we need to be able to make informed decisions,” says Hacera founder Jonathan Levi.
The MiPasa project seeks to enable “early detection of Covid-19 carriers and infection hotspots”.
The project authenticates location and health data on the platform and analyses it to form global insights while ensuring patient data privacy, with MiPasa saying the platform will be a “verifiable information highway”.
By aggregating data from numerous sources, and using numerous public data analytics tools, the project hopes to help public health officials study information regarding new infections, deaths and recoveries while looking at time spans to enable the modelling of tools that can predict new trends.
“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,” a statement on Mipasa’s website reads.
A live interactive map will be built to encourage anyone infected to self-report in a privacy-enabled mode. This allows the public to see whether they have been near someone who is infected and could potentially be used by governments to prioritise who should be tested or isolated.
Those who recover will also be requested to self-report on the blockchain and this provides a real time data management that will help health organisations in faster decision making to save the world.
Partners in the project expected to help in the part of Big Data are the World Health Organization (WHO), Johns Hopkins University and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
This partnership, according to the project engineers, aims to synthesise data from separate sources and reconcile them. It plans to ensure that the data in the system matches the original, giving the public a chance to report data inaccuracies.
Benjamin Arunda, Kenyan author of the book Understanding the Blockchain, says the MiPasa project is a good move as health data needs a highly secure environment that cannot be hacked to store and share it.
“Blockchain will be essential in tracking and tracing the spread of coronavirus. This will make it easy for medical researchers to analyse patient data and advise on control mechanisms,” he told HealthyKenya.
The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Community Development is also adopting blockchain solutions for identity verification and the distribution of official documents — allowing customers to securely engage with the ministry from home.
China has deployed blockchain in numerous applications to assist its efforts to fight Covid-19. It is used track the virus’ spread, medical records and the distribution of medical supplies and charity donations.
“Because it is a tamper-proof system, blockchain is the most viable technology to manage patient data, a sensitive part of data privacy. WHO will now be able to draw accurate conclusions from such data. MiPasa will be a big milestone because the world can use it to fight other diseases,” said Mr Arunda.
The World Economic Forum has stated that by 2025, 10 per cent of the global Gross Domestic Product will be stored on blockchain and blockchain-related technologies.
Other organisations working closely with MiPasa are Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the Hong Kong Department of Health, the Government of Canada and China’s National Health Commission.