As governments around the world scramble to contain the spread of COVID-19, three related and urgent needs continue to emerge: to find a reliable way to track the evolution of the virus in communities, to trace contact with individuals who may be infected with the coronavirus, and to stop the distribution of fake or counterfeit masks, test kits and vaccines before they reach the public.
Digital traceability technologies can address these issues in a way that protects both the public health and the individual right to freedom and privacy, which has also emerged as a primary concern in these difficult times.
Traceability is not a new concept. In fact, it has been at the core of OPTEL’s mission for the past 30 years, and it can now be among the world’s most valuable allies in the fight against COVID-19.
We have seen authorities worldwide experiment with a variety of methods to achieve what is known as “contact tracing,” which aims to determine where a potentially infected person may have been since contracting the virus and, most importantly, with whom that person may have been in contact.
This is most typically done through in-person interviews between potentially infected individuals and trained medical personnel, as was done during the SARS outbreak of 2003, and the 2014 Ebola outbreak.[i]
The same results can be achieved in a non-intrusive manner that preserves the confidentiality of individual information by means of digital technology.
By combining traceability and today’s user-friendly chatbot technologies, we now have the ability to collect data about a person’s current state of health, as well as their recent whereabouts and contacts, and to advise them on what steps to take according to their risk of infecting others ― all while preserving the confidentiality of their personal information.
Individuals, companies and government authorities can then use this data to make informed decisions, to track the spread of infection down to precise geographic locations, to trace the evolution of the virus in specific communities, and to prevent further spread, all thanks to mobile technologies that anyone can use.
The same traceability principle can be applied to stemming the manufacturing, distribution and sale of counterfeit or unauthorized face masks, a growing concern as counterfeiters unfortunately seek to profit from the current crisis.
Because the first step in the traceability journey is the identification of individual items through serialization, unique identifying codes can be applied to such items as face masks, COVID-19 test kits and, eventually, vaccine doses, to ensure their authenticity and reliability.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other authorities continue to warn the public about at-home COVID-19 test kits, treatments or “cures” that have become widely available for purchase online and are at the very least fake, if not fatal.
During this time of global crisis, we cannot afford false hope and fake solutions that can only lead to further propagation of the virus, needless additional infections and senseless deaths.
Digital traceability technologies offer real hope and real solutions, which is what the world needs right now.
[i] U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM)