The coronavirus crisis has seen many countries deploy technology in various forms to deal with the pandemic.
In the absence of a vaccine or a cure, the only strategy being used now globally is largely testing and quarantine. If you have some of the symptoms such as fever, persistent cough and a recent history of travel from hotspots or getting into contact with someone who did, you are supposed to go for testing.
If your test is positive, you are then supposed to be quarantined in hospital for treatment and the history of the people you have come in touch with, then forms the next target list of suspects that need to be tracked, brought in and tested.
Meanwhile, the general public is expected to play it safe, by avoiding unnecessary public gatherings that are often congested such as pubs, shopping malls, churches, mosques and transport hubs.
How can technology assist in suppressing the exponential spread of this virus?
In China and other non-democratic states, it is always much easier. When they say, Wuhan is under lockdown, they do not really beg or negotiate with anyone about it. They simply deploy police and military forces to enforce.
Furthermore, those who are quarantined are monitored digitally through their mobile phone signals. Any unauthorised movement beyond the expected radius is met with instant disciplinary measures.
In more democratic societies like Italy or ours, the governments are only left pleading with citizens to self-quarantine, go for check-up, amongst other non-mandatory interventions.
This obviously makes it much more difficult to keep down the spread of the virus if the public is not cooperating and the government is limited in what it can enforce without violating people’s freedoms.
Singapore seemed to have found a middle ground between being extreme and draconian on one hand and being overly democratic on the other.
They publish comprehensive and timely updates on the latest incidents of the coronavirus, its location, history and status.
One could argue that our Cabinet Secretary of Health is doing exactly the same with the regular press briefing but the Singapore case goes deeper and maps out a tree diagram of how all cases are interrelated by physical contact in real time.
This helps the public get a feel of which sites are the previous, the current and potential hotspots for the evolving virus – and subsequently take pre-emptive measures by limiting their movements or travels accordingly.
The CS Health has commissioned an AI-driven CT Scan at the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNK) that would be used to diagnose presence of the virus in thousands of X-ray reports coming in from various counties in a much shorter time.
The big question however is whether the county-level hospitals are locally configured and digitally connected to KNH in order to make use of this useful intervention.
Another useful tool the Ministry of Health could include in its arsenal is the use of simulators. Simulators are software-driven decision-making tools that allow policy makers to do ‘What-if’ analyses.
For example, the simulator can predict the number of people infected, hospitalised, fatalities, etc. for different policy scenarios such as partial lockdown, increased testing and effective quarantine.
The decision maker may then be in a better position to know which intervention has better outcomes based on prevailing constraints such as limited test kits, limited medical personnel or hospital beds.
The coronavirus pandemic is here with us and we must explore carefully all possibilities – including technologies that can help us bring it under control.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu