Big data and artificial intelligence have helped facilitate Covid-19 preparedness and the tracking of people, and so the spread of infection, in several countries. Photo: File
Big data and artificial intelligence have helped facilitate Covid-19 preparedness and the tracking of people, and so the spread of infection, in several countries. Photo: File

Covid-19 global tech response

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Mar 14, 2021

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MASKS and Covid-19 hospitals were visible forms of interventions against Covid-19.

Technology has been invisible, yet also effective in assisting the global community to mitigate risks and manage contagion levels. Little has been said about the effectiveness of technology in fighting coronavirus.

A global outlook conducted by The Lancet provides an inside story of how countries used technology to deal with Covid-19. It provides a framework for the application of digital technologies in pandemic management and response, highlighting ways in which successful countries have adopted and integrated digital technologies for pandemic planning, surveillance, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and health care.

Digital health technologies have been instrumental in facilitating pandemic strategies and responses in ways that could have been difficult to achieve manually. Countries such as South Korea have integrated digital technology into government-coordinated containment and mitigation processes – including surveillance, testing, contact tracing and strict quarantine – which could be associated with the early flattening of their incidence curves.

The success of this methodology is clear to see when one looks at South Korea and the US. South Korea was able to better manage the situation with fewer beds when compared to the US with a high number of beds.

Big data and artificial intelligence have helped facilitate Covid-19 preparedness and the tracking of people, and so the spread of infection, in several countries. Tools such as migration maps, which use mobile phones, mobile payment applications and social media to collect real-time data on the location of people allowed Chinese authorities to track the movement of people who had visited the Wuhan market, the pandemic’s epicentre.

With this data, machine learning models were developed to forecast the regional transmission dynamics of Sars-cov-2 and guide border checks and surveillance. As soon as China reported the outbreak, Taiwan initiated health checks for airline travellers from Wuhan, integrating data from immigration records with its centralised, real-time national health insurance database.

This allowed health-care facilities to access patients’ travel histories and identify individuals for Sars-cov-2 testing and tracking. Taiwan’s efficient use of big data is credited for the low number of cases and deaths.

The need to track Covid-19 has fuelled the innovation of data dashboards that visually display disease burden. Upcode used data provided by the Singapore Ministry of Health to depict infection trends across age, sex and location, and to plot the recovery time of infected individuals.

The Johns Hopkins University coronavirus dashboard and the webbased platform Healthmap provided up-to-date visuals of Covid-19 cases and deaths around the globe. AI algorithms have enabled the effect of climate to be incorporated into the projections.

Unlike most other countries, Iceland has launched widespread testing of asymptomatic individuals. Using mobile technology, Iceland collected data on patient-reported symptoms and combined these data with other datasets such as clinical and genomic sequencing data to reveal information about the pathology and spread of the virus.

This approach has added to the knowledge base regarding the prevalence and transmission of asymptomatic Covid-19. To date, Iceland has had the highest per-capita testing rate and among the lowest per-capita Covid-19 mortality rate. Iceland has also launched a cellphone solution to monitor individuals with Covid19 and ensure that they remain in self-isolation.

Germany has launched a smartwatch application that collects pulse, temperature and sleep pattern data to screen for signs of a viral illness. Data from the application are presented on an online, interactive map in which authorities can assess the likelihood of Covid-19 incidence across the nation. With widespread testing and digital health interventions, Germany has maintained a low per-capita mortality rate relative to other countries, despite a high prevalence of cases.

In Hong Kong, people in selfisolation are required to wear a wristband linked through cloud technology to a database that alerts authorities if quarantine is breached. Virtual care platforms, using video conferencing and digital monitoring, have been used worldwide to deliver remote health care to patients as a means of reducing their exposure to Sars-cov-2 in health-care institutions.

In Canada, clinician-to-patient video visits increased from approximately 1 000 visits per day in February 2020 to 14000 per day by mid-may.

South Africa has also used an app to conduct contact tracing which has also proven to be instrumental in the early identification of cases, although the rate of adoption limited the impact. Researchers at Oxford University (UK) have suggested that 60% of a country’s population would need to use a contact tracing application for it to be an effective mitigation strategy.

Data has proven to be a common thread across countries that successfully used technology to deal with Covid-19. This highlights the need for countries to develop systems that enable the collection, management, and usage of data to better manage this and future pandemics.

[email protected]@inl.co.za

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