Coronavirus has spread across the entire globe. As of the time of writing, the WHO reports over 3 million cases globally and over 250.000 people have died. So far, COVID-19 has been localized to mostly wealthier countries, but experts are worried that the developing world could be hit even harder by the virus.
Even though COVID-19 is global, not every nation has been hit the same. Some countries, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong have made news because they have been extraordinarily successful at reducing rates of infection and flattening the curve. Examining pandemic responses in these successful countries can help other nations figure out the strengths and weaknesses of their approaches.
Case Study: South Korea
At the end of March, South Korea had over 9,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and was among the top 10 countries for the total number of cases. However, public health experts have noticed that South Korea has been able to drastically reduce the rate of incidence without having to implement strict lockdown measures that have been seen elsewhere in the world.
South Korea managed to stymie the outbreak without implementing draconian measures. Their secret? Comprehensive screening, testing, and quarantine measures. South Korea’s government had been preparing for the virus since it was discovered in early January, so they were quick to respond when the first cases in Daegu began to come in.
South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-who stated that early and rapid testing was the main factor that allowed public health officials to get ahead of the spread. “In mid-January, our health authorities quickly conferred with the research institutions here,” Kang told BBC. “And then they shared that result with the pharmaceutical companies, who then produced the reagent and the equipment needed for testing.”
South Korea did not only test those who were sick enough to be in the hospital but also mild and even suspected cases. Tens of thousands of at-risk individuals have been quarantined, even if they were not expressing any symptoms. Those that do get sick can be treated quickly to prevent the spread of infection.
South Korea’s pandemic response has been praised by world leaders as an example of the appropriate manner to handle outbreaks. The president of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus claimed that the lessons learned in South Korea were to be applied to other countries combating the virus.
In a similar manner, Japan has been very successful at containing the infection through a program of aggressively testing for existing and potential cases. Despite having nearly twice the population, Japan has about the same number of confirmed cases as South Korea. The solution there too was a rigorous process of identifying potential contacts of infected individuals and taking early action before the virus could spread.
The use of contact tracing in many other Asian nations such as Hong Kong and Taiwan shows that contact tracing, along with other comprehensive public health approaches, can be an extremely effective method of containing infectious disease outbreaks.
Challenges to Contact Tracing
Not all countries have had a successful response to the virus. In the US alone, there are over 1 million confirmed cases and over 60 thousand people have died since February. Despite the Trump administration implementing nationwide stay-at-home orders, the US remains the country with the single highest disease count and thousands of new cases are being reported daily.
Lack of proper testing equipment has been one major factor affecting the spread in the US. The main reason why successful countries were able to get ahead of the virus was a comprehensive program of testing and tracing contacts of potentially infected individuals.
The solutions in successful countries may also not be applicable across the board to all other countries. In the US, for example, the stark division between federal and state government powers has resulted in a lack of unified nationwide response. Political divisions over the pandemic in many western nations also contribute to a hesitance of people to engage in proper social distancing and self-quarantine measures. Many feel that abiding by social distancing is an unnecessary abrogation of their freedom, and others express concerns that allowing a strong federal response could serve as a precedent for increasing government control over the social sphere.
The fact that differences in political institutions and national demographics are relevant to whether a particular response to an outbreak will be effective means what works in some countries may not work in all countries. As such, there needs to be a better solution for managing contact tracing that is more generally applicable across the board.
Solution: Internet of Things
CareBand’s SafeTrack offers a unique solution to contract tracing challenges through its internet of things technology. By utilizing geofencing and GPS technology, CareBand’s SafeTrack solution offers a scalable infrastructure for contact tracing that can be tested on nothing but a smartphone.
The use of low-powered wide-area networks (LPWAN) along with Bluetooth devices allows SafeTrack to form a real-time network of location and contact data that can be used to track disease progression. The cloud-based approach circumvents many traditional challenges to contact tracing, such as a lack of location data or thorough information about a person’s contacts. SafeTrack’s end-to-end system creates a real-time network that governments and public health institutions can use to track and manage the spread of disease.
Moreover, SafeTrack’s reliance on cloud-based architecture means that it is scalable and can be rapidly deployed in any country. The reliance on LPWAN and Bluetooth low energy technology means there are few technical hurdles to the implementation of the system.
The nature of a globalized world means the governments and public health agencies must start rethinking their approaches to issues like pandemics. Traditional practices of contact tracing are not robust enough for comprehensive pandemic responses on a national and international level. SafeTrack’s Internet of Things technology offers an integrated and scalable approach for public health solutions that is uniquely suited for a digital world.