The coronavirus pandemic has become the first global-scale health crisis that blockchain technology has had to handle. Over the past year, authorities and governments have done their best to utilize technology to help improve their ability to fight the pandemic one way or another.
Blockchain technology has been instrumental in fighting the pandemic, providing benefits on several fronts, and allowing individuals and agencies to capitalize on its unique characteristics. Below, we look at some areas where blockchain has been instrumental in fighting COVID-19 and some of the companies that have been involved in this application.
Optimal Data Sharing
One of the primary issues in managing the pandemic was finding reliable and accurate data concerning the virus's outbreak and eventual spread. With the coronavirus spreading daily, it was almost impossible to keep up and continue taking data, even as authorities did their best and worked round the clock for solutions.
One of the primary advantages of blockchain technology is its ability to provide data using peer-to-peer networks and distributed ledger technology. A blockchain functions as a public database that is stored in different areas across a network. Data is brought in "blocks," and a new block's addition puts a responsibility on network validators to verify the data's accuracy. This way, we can improve collaboration and ensure effective data validation, no matter how quickly it changes.
Several platforms have sprung up with the use of blockchain to facilitate COVID-19-related data sharing.
In March of last year, the World Health Organization partnered with several leading tech organizations to launch MiPasa - a blockchain platform that facilitates information sharing between individuals, healthcare organizations, and concerned government agencies. MiPasa gets location data and health data from different sources - including the WHO itself, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more. From there, it focuses on data reconciliation by opening it up to the public for identifying mismatches.
All in all, MiPasaa looks to create a single and central repository of accurate, precise data.
MiPasa also facilitates self-reporting, allowing individuals and public health officials to upload information about different infections. The self-reporting is safe and privacy-enabled, with MiPasa stripping all data sources of their data and allowing people to see if they have been around infected persons recently.
Along with MiPasa, Emerge, a Toronto-based technology firm, announced the launch of Civitas. The platform functions as a smartphone app that associates users' ID numbers with unique records on a blockchain network. Civitas was used in Honduras, allowing the government to determine whether an individual can get approval for a permit to get medical treatment. If a user reports having symptoms for COVID-19, Civitas can help them determine the best and safest time for them to leave home and get essential products like food and drugs.
Civitas also helps doctors and other professionals by allowing them to track coronavirus symptoms, including notes that pertain to care for specific patients. All of this data is available to users and their healthcare providers exclusively, with cryptographic security helping them to ensure optimal protection.
Supply Chain Management for Medical Supplies
Along with facilitating data sharing, blockchain solutions can also help to improve supply chains for medical equipment and critical supplies. One of the most fundamental uses of blockchain technology is improving supply chains. Businesses have benefited from this for years, and it came into full force during the fight against the pandemic.
In the Netherlands, Tymlz, a blockchain firm, offered its platform to the government. The blockchain acted as the underlying technology for mapping and analyzing the county's medical supply chain. It ensured a match with supply and demand, while the supply chain remained transparent over time. With Tymlez, the Dutch government could reduce price hikes and hoarding.
Similar applications have come in Canada and the United States. Tech giant IBM collaborated with Chainyard, a blockchain firm based in North Carolina, to develop the Rapid Supplier Connect network (RSC). The partners built the network to help healthcare companies and government health agencies to identify non-traditional equipment suppliers who had modified their operations to help with essential equipment shortages.
RSC's goal is to take some of the work of managing supply chains of medical organizations and government agencies. It helps to accelerate the process of verifying and incorporating non-traditional suppliers into the supply chain, providing real-time inventories of equipment.
Developing Mobile Apps for Contact Tracing
With progress made in keeping the virus at bay, one of the next frontiers for governments is in developing contact tracing apps on smartphones that will determine whether users have come in contact with an infected person. These apps use phone tracking technology to diagnose possible patients, and they can alert users if there is a cause for concern.
However, a significant challenge with the adoption of contact tracing apps is that authorities will need to ensure optimal data privacy and protection. Thankfully, blockchain can help to provide a reliable solution to privacy challenges. As a complementary product to the tracking technology, we can use a blockchain ledger to record data relating to users and their movements. Blockchain can also help to share data with other ledger participants.
With a blockchain platform, we can protect users' identities through anonymous identifiers and encryption. Instead of passwords and user IDs, developers can provide users with unique and encrypted digital identities that will be used in data dissemination and management.
We can also use private key technology to give users control over what is done with their data and who even gets to see it in the first place. Since blockchain data is unchangeable, all shared information will remain safe and tamper-proof.