The War against COVID-19: Where we Stand and How Blockchain Could Help Us


‘Corona virus’ (or COVID-19 as it is formally known) is the foremost topic on everyone’s mind today. Scanning our social media feed or checking the official website to stay updated with the latest news regarding the disease has almost become second nature. No dinner table discussion and no phone conversations is complete without a reference to the mayhem this disease has left in its wake.
From a localized flu-like disease, the Corona outbreak has grown into a global crisis. On 11th March, the World Health Organization (WHO)
declared the outbreak to be a pandemic. Two days prior to this announcement, the Italian government had put the entire county on lockdown to control the spread of the disease. Spain followed suit on 14th March. Recently, on 25th March, the whole of India was also put under lockdown.
In fact, as per this report, a third of the world’s population is under lockdown now!
A third of the world is under lockdown now, with potentially more to follow

The Human Cost

First detected on 31st Dec, 2019, in the Chinese town of Wuhan, the novel Corona virus has gripped the entire world in its claws of fear and panic. As per the latest report, there have been around 640 thousand confirmed cases and 30 thousand deaths. Italy has been the worst affected, with more than 10 thousand patients succumbing to the virus. Recently, the United States has become the new epicenter of the infection, with around 116 thousand confirmed cases and around 2000 deaths. And the numbers keep on climbing.
The initial symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, fever, and shortness of breath. If left untreated, it can soon escalate to pneumonia. At this stage, it becomes a question of how strong a person’s immune system inherently is. Antibiotics are useless, and many of the patients who have finally succumbed to this disease either suffered from poor health or were of an advanced age.

Piazza del Duomo, Milan, which is typically bustling with people, now wears a deserted look

Economy in Shambles

With countries all over the world struggling to contain and minimize the damage caused by COVID-19, the global economy has suffered a body blow. In the last few weeks, every single market – equities, precious
metals, crypto – has taken a nosedive.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, a stock market index that measures the performance of the US stock exchanges, has dipped by almost 20% after a record 11-year bull rally.
From a mid-Feb price of nearly $10,000, Bitcoin plunged to the lower region of $4,000, and is now struggling to stay afloat above the $6,000 mark. Oil prices have plunged to multi-year lows. Even gold price, traditionally considered a safe haven for investors, is showing signs of decline.

Bitcoin has lost almost 40% of its value over the last couple of weeks

As part of their precautionary steps, various countries have imposed international travel restrictions on their citizens, and have also prohibited entry to foreign travelers. Moreover, with countries going into lockdown mode, domestic air travel has also taken a huge hit. Globally, the airline industry is predicted to lose $29billion.
Manufacturing sectors worldwide have also seen a slowdown. The manufacturing and services sectors in China had already been suffering
since February. This has had a cascading effect on countries with close
economic ties with the Asian behemoth. With logistics and supply chains being disrupted locally and workers being asked to stay home, many factories have come to a temporary halt.  
While countries are bolstering their medical facilities and resources, they are staring not only at a medical and humanitarian crisis, but also at an economic crisis.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been forced to reduce the estimated global economic growth in 2020 from 3.3% to 2.9%. Experts fear that a global recession is just around the corner now.

The Medical Warriors

Doctors, researchers, medical engineers and healthcare specialists all over the globe have been working day and night not only to find an effective vaccine against the disease, but also to develop efficient test, detection and quarantine methodologies for large populations with limited resources. Their efforts have led to sporadic successes here and there, but a globally accepted cure seems to be still a long way away.  
Clinicians, scientists and researchers analyzing data related to this crisis complain about the lack of integration of verified data sources. Reputable sources (such as Center for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO) are available, but most of the data that is communicated among hospitals and government or private agencies is either inconsistent or not easily sharable
due to bureaucratic red tape.
A universal calamity such as COVID-19 requires a focused and concerted effort by disjointed teams working across latitude and longitudes.
Real-time data has to be shared in a fast and reliable manner between continents, so that teams can independently verify the information, and plan ahead in an organized manner.

Blockchain joins the Battle

WHO has identified blockchain as the choice of technology to build this “COVID-19 information highway”.
Named MiPasa, this platform is developed on HyperLedger Fabric, and
uses IBM Blockchain Platform and IBM Cloud. Industry giants such as IBM, Oracle and Microsoft have joined this initiative, alongwith institutions like John Hopkins University, European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, USA CDC, China CDC, and so on.
MiPasa - the COVID-19 Information Highway

MiPasa has been designed to be a global-scale control and communication system that will aid in swift and more precise early detection of COVID-19 carriers and infection hotspots. This will be achieved through seamless and fully private information sharing between individuals, state authorities and health institutions, utilizing advanced technological tools and a dedicated user app.
As per the 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.”
MiPasa is utilizing data analytics and privacy tools that were previously only available to elite financial institutions. The general public would be able to report inconsistencies or bad data, providing public health officials a seamless way to analyze and respond to public sentiment.
This will make it vastly easier to collect, collate and study information about the outbreak’s spread and containment. MiPasa hopes that this will help public health officials, the scientific community, and the public at large to more efficiently battle the ongoing Corona virus pandemic.
MiPasa is also building a map of COVID-19 patients through privacy-enabled self-reporting, which would allow individuals to upload data about the time and exact location of infections in a discreet manner. This data would enable users to check if they have come in contact with anyone who has been infected, without revealing any personal information.
Public health officials could use this mapping data to calculate a risk of exposure, helping hospitals prioritize resources and letting individuals know whether it’s really critical for them to get a test. MiPasa is slated to soon host an array of publicly accessible analytics tools too.

Parting Thoughts

Efforts have also been afoot to create databases for tracking the spread of COVID-19 without the use of blockchain. The European Commission has been leaning on Europe’s telcos to share aggregate location data of their customers, to analyse the mobility patterns of contacts and analyze the risks of contamination.
India also is developing an app that will use the location data of users and Bluetooth to gauge if the user has been near a person infected by the virus. Unfortunately, in both cases, the location data of individuals is required, leading to concerns about privacy.
Blockchain, on the other hand, is evasive in nature, and keeps the user's identity private. It has already been deployed to help in the fight against COVID-19. The UAE’s Ministry of Community Development (MOCD) employed DLT-based tools for identity verification and distribution of official documents, so that customers can interact with MOCD from the safety of their homes.

China had also been utilizing blockchain technology in numerous applications, such as tracking of disease spread, medical records, and distribution of medical supplies. However, these have been local applications with limited reach and scope.
MiPasa's scope is much wider, as its intended to be used by researchers, government official, health personnel, and even the general public all over the globe. It promises to unleash the full force of blockchain technology. Hopefully, more institutions will join this cause, and develop MiPasa into a game-changer in this battle against COVID-19.

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