The uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 has shown us just how unprepared the healthcare industry is for such a contagious pandemic. Since the outbreak, we have taken great strides to improve our healthcare surveillance, but we haven’t perfected our techniques just yet.
One tool that could help us contain and manage a future outbreak is blockchain technology. In this article, I take a deep look at where we are today and how the use of decentralized ledger technology can change things for the better, possibly preventing future pandemics.
Today’s Picture: Local Formulas To Global Threats
Any disease that could potentially become a pandemic is a huge health concern for the entire world. The COVID-19 has proven that some governments understand the importance of acting fast. South Korea, Taiwan, and Finland rushed to test as many citizens as possible, and quickly isolated the infected ones to prevent the spread.
In Spain and Italy, where authorities took longer to react and opted for isolation without mass testing, the outbreak rapidly escalated and resulted in an absolute health crisis. In the United States, where the government did not enforce people to stay home. With one million plus infected and the largest number of deaths so far, it’s clear that President’s Trump late and uncoordinated response was not really the best choice.
While lockdown and mass testing are key to weather this health storm successfully, these measures are only on the surface. Today, we already have surveillance systems that allow us to track new diseases and control the ones we’re already aware of. Unfortunately, the efficiency of these systems is limited by a number of factors that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Data Management: Not Good Enough
Data management is the first issue we need to deal with before the next pandemic occurs. To contain a virus, epidemiologists need to be able to gather, verify, and clean up the data collected about a particular virus as quickly as possible.
This way, they can give government agencies recommendations on the best course of action. The systems currently in place fail to allow them to complete these tasks effectively, due to the difficulty in getting the data they need and verifying its integrity.
Reporting: Blurring The Full Picture
Another issue that prevents the proper containment of viruses is underreporting. During the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government reported numbers of those infected or killed by the virus that were far below the actual numbers. This type of underreporting creates a lack of data transparency.
There was also a shortage of testing kits available, which made it difficult to know exactly how many people were infected or died from this virus. This prevented us from determining how serious the outbreak was until it was too late to contain it.
Supply Chain: Time Is Lives
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, there has been a huge strain on the global supply chain, particularly when it comes to the medical supplies needed to combat this virus. The first issue is that we were unprepared for the sheer amount of medical supplies, like test kits and ventilators, needed for such an outbreak.
There are financial issues, too. Valuable time has been wasted on long contract negotiations, and payment settlements. There is a great deal of red tape to deal with concerning medical equipment, with standards to be met and fraudulent suppliers to weed out. Spain, Turkey, and the Netherlands have all returned masks and medical tests from China.
Blockchain vs. Pandemics: 4 Use Cases
Though it is already far too late to contain the current coronavirus pandemic, blockchain technology could help us do a much better job with any viruses we see in the future.
Consolidating Global Records
Nowadays, each government handles medical data on its own. They collect and store the data in local databases. And while this approach might be understandable from a security standpoint, the COVID-19 has teached us global efforts are needed to overcome an outbreak.
Local data management also attempts against transparency. Without it, medical organizations cannot adjust their efforts accordingly to fight a virus.
That said, the decentralized nature of blockchain technology makes it a perfect candidate to replace local data storages. With a decentralized database of medical records, government agencies, doctors, and civilians can make better decisions altogether.
Health care workers could collect data in real-time, ensuring the integrity of that data while eliminating misinformation about viruses. They could also manage health records more accurately, including patient data, treatments, and progress, without the risk of compromising privacy and security.
A blockchain-based surveillance system could allow users to track virus data and trends as they occur, including confirmed infection cases, related deaths, recoveries, and much more. The more rapidly the data is processed, the earlier we can detect infections, preventing their spread.
It can also allow us to develop treatments quicker and manage pandemics at a higher rate by enabling government and healthcare agencies to track the origin of the virus, how it spreads, new cases, and all other necessary data.
Optimizing Medical Supply Chains
One way blockchain can help is with medical supply chains. It can provide factories with the necessary product specifications and requirements. Health care officials will be able to determine which factories are meeting quality control standards and can produce the volume of products needed.
It can also help deal with financial issues, ensure blockchain-backed payments upfront to the factories, which will be released when the production milestones that have been agreed to are met and supplies are shipped out. Blockchain-based Customs Certifications can help regulate the export of numerous products and it can even be used to securely track supplies as they go from the supplier to their destination.
Overseeing Financial Donations
Another great use of this decentralized ledger technology is donations tracking. By implementing a donation system that runs on blockchain technology, donors could track their donations from end to end, and make sure funds are actually delivered to those in need.
Sounds like a dream? Back in October, 2019, UNICEF started to experiment with blockchain-based donations for its cryptocurrency fund.
This technology could eliminate any possible scandals over how the donations are handled and how aid is being distributed, ensuring the money is going where it is needed most.
Preventing Zoonotic Diseases
Zoonotic diseases are transmitted to humans through contact with animals. If veterinary field records were added to blockchain-based surveillance systems, we could catch the virus in infected animals before humans contract it.
This would allow for higher rates of collaboration and transparency when tracking migratory animals, eliminating those who carry the disease before humans become infected.
Though it is too late for blockchain to help us deal with the current coronavirus pandemic, this technology can prevent such outbreaks from spreading so rapidly in the future. It has a variety of uses, including tracking viruses, dealing with supply issues, managing financial donations, and even preventing infection before it spreads from animals to humans. This increased spread of information and aid can keep future pandemics from taking us by surprise.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Crypterium.