Covid-19 came from nowhere and hit us far harder than we could ever imagine. To date, the highly infectious virus has spread to more than 213 countries and infected more than 6,370,499 people, causing over 377,400 deaths and leaving in its wake a trail of economic and social destruction. In both the developed and developing world, public health care workers cannot keep up with the steady influx of infected patients, and even in the world’s wealthiest countries the health infrastructure is sorely inadequate to deal with the virus. It begs the question of what exactly, if anything, we have been doing in recent years to prepare for such an outbreak.
Many would argue we have been doing nothing - some would argue that highly advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain were created precisely to help countries around the world collaborate securely, efficiently and on the scale required in the event of a pandemic such as this. Already, technology has been adapted to suit current needs – from small EDCs which help prevent unnecessary contact with doorknobs and surfaces in public, to the adoption of electronic signature API which also minimizes contact by providing an authenticated method of authorization, replacing the need of signing documents in person.
But how exactly can blockchain - the decentralised network of computers that records and stores data to display a chronological series of events on an immutable ledger system - help us stop the spread of Covid-19? It would appear that blockchain can do so in several ways, including the secure sharing of health data, secure sharing of intellectual property by research scientists, through contact tracing and supply chain management.
Blockchain enabling confidentiality of critical health data
Firstly, let’s look at the sharing of critical health data across regional or organisational borders. Covid-19-related data needs to be shared in order to drive insights and protect borders from potential new infections, but at the same time countries and organisations want to protect their interests, patient privacy, and IP. Given blockchain is premised entirely on the idea of simultaneously achieving security and privacy, by enabling confidentiality through a public infrastructure that protects against malicious attempts to steal or alter that data, is blockchain not the perfect solution? Several organisations have already recognised this potential. One blockchain platform, Hacera.com, has launched the ‘MiPasa project - an Open Data Platform to Support COVID-19 Response’, which works to share safe, protected, verified pandemic data from a range of credible sources in order to inform insights about the virus. Data scientists, doctors and public health officials can compare data via the platform against multiple data sets, which would just not be possible without the use of blockchain.
Similarly, former Chief Software Architect at the CDC, Jim Nasr, has developed blockchain-based Covid-19 tracker that is fed verified, secure data from the CDC, the WHO and clinicaltrials.gov. The way it works is that whenever data is received, it’s given a timestamp via blockchain, which securely tracks when and from where the information was retrieved, thus ensuring its credibility. It is the ‘electronic signature api’ for health data, if you will, and is described by Nasr as a “tamperproof transaction log of everything that has happened on Hedera”. Blockchain has the potential to transform the way data is shared and value is transferred, and Covid-19 might just be the wide-scale, real-life push people need to recognise this.
Blockchain helping researchers share critical findings
Blockchain might also be able to help researchers around the world share critical findings while simultaneously protecting the interests of researchers and stakeholders. Sharing medical research and scientific findings to the extent where it might be able to stem the global flow of a virus is critical, but often researchers are hesitant to share unpublished findings for fear of the ramifications in terms of unprotected patents, and employers and stakeholders’ interests. Blockchain, however, could enable the safe, secure sharing of intellectual property, by providing an auditable, tamper-proof trail that can be accessed only by trusted collaborators - unlike sending significant findings via email, for example.
Blockchain helping boost supply chain resilience
Lastly, blockchain could help boost supply chain resilience not only during a global pandemic but in the instance of any global disaster, be it world conflict, natural disaster, or trade war. Covid-19 has caused major disruptions across global supply chains for a whole range of reasons, including the shutting downs of factories due to lockdown, unprecedented demand for certain goods, decreased demand for international flights, and so forth. No organisation or business could have anticipated this in advance, and many are struggling to feed demand due to supply chain issues. Blockchain however has the capacity to connect all suppliers within the chain, informing each actor of where they might be an issue in terms of supply so that they can source that product from an alternative supplier, providing transparency and security in doing so. One example of a blockchain-based healthcare project supporting healthcare providers to identify vetted medical equipment suppliers is Rapid Supplier Connect. Hospitals and healthcare providers are able to search for suppliers via the platform, but only once an agreement is reached between the organisations is the vendor’s financial information and certification shared with the entity searching, enabling secure and trusted relations between the two parties.
As we continue to be confronted with the devastating consequences of the novel coronavirus, many are convinced technology is the answer to global collaboration, the tracking of personal health data and supply chain regulation. Others fear for the privacy of citizens around the world, believing contact tracing apps like Japan’s TraceTogether or Australia’s COVIDSafe app to be infringing data privacy laws. But technologies such as blockchain can help stop the pandemic’s spread without encroaching on privacy, so long as it is done correctly.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.