The importance of information in time of pandemic
CMFR CHEERS Cielito Habito for deftly detecting a failure in the government approach to fight COVID-19. From the start of the crisis, none of the public officials seemed inclined to harness the power of information technology to solve fundamental problems orenhance the effectiveness of its responses. His column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “No Free Lunch” on Tuesday, April 14, noted:
“From what I’m seeing, it looks like information communication technology (ICT) and data science have been buried deep in the box of technology tools our government has so far deployed in the fight against COVID-19.”
The administration’s scaled up response to the pandemic does not necessarily inspire confidence. The extended lockdown shrouds any hope that we can soon see light shining from the end of the tunnel. The numbers are still on the rise, as shown by the data of Department of Health (DOH), the agency earlier assigned to lead the government action against the disease. Many fear that the lack of testing is probably leading to a lower estimate of the actual levels of infection.
Habito, an economist and former chief of the National Economic Development Agency (NEDA), used the president’s favorite “war” metaphor in describing the situation: “Our government leaders need timely and accurate data in devising strategic measures to contain the virus. In combat, be it in the military or epidemiological realm, timely and reliable information is critical. The scientific approach to problem-solving hinges on accurate and timely data. Yet we have gone for weeks with our leaders admitting that we do not know or see the enemy enough to use more focused ‘rifle’ solutions.”
The DOH did not anticipate the need for a tool in contact tracing, as it prepared to undertake more extensive tests. But it is not the only agency seemingly clueless in the use of data. Citing news reports, Habito identified other areas in which this blind spot has slowed down implementation or made it nearly impossible: the handling of the mandated cash distribution by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the assistance to displaced workers by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).
Habito asked: “Where is the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) in all this?”
CMFR found a press release posted by the DICT on April 5saying that Secretary Gregorio Honasan, a former senator with a checkered military career, had written to Singapore’s ambassador in Manila, asking if Singapore could helpthe government create an app similar to what Singapore used for quick contact tracing. It also noted Singapore’s positive response but there has been no subsequent update. Several online news sites reported this press release.
Also on April 5, an Inquirer online report described the development of an app by a team of software engineers and designers from the University of the Philippines, with the assistance of the National Privacy Commission. It has the same features as Singapore’s TraceTogether mobile app. This is not at all surprising, as the country’s tech community has a sterling record in the use of ICT to help deal with disasters. Undergoing beta testing, the app may be rolled out sooner than DICT’s next press release.
Even at this point, with so much time lost, ICT can still enhance the impact of the much anticipated testing protocols of the DOH. On a more basic function, ICT tools can disseminate the information that communities must know, such as when and where to go for test or treatment. But even traditional mass communication should be employed as well, cascading the flow of information to the barangay level, so that every citizen can be empowered to do what can be done for the health of the communities. The Duterte administration has used massive resources to glorify the president, including information caravans abroad. Ironically, there is little evidence of the use of the same to save Filipino lives.
ICT TOOLS FOR COVID-19
CMFR has listed contact tracing platforms and mobile applications, as well as other websites that provide useful information on the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines. This list will be updated.
CLEAR (Citizen’s Logistics and Early Assessment Report Tool)
Spring Valley Tech Corporation, CMI Tech
Users can track their state of health and enable contact tracing, if necessary. The app integrates GPS and Bluetooth technology and operates on a database with crowdsourcing functions.
This Malaysian platform, also available in the Philippines, allows users to record their location data, “check-in” and disclose if they are experiencing symptoms.
Users enter personal data such as symptoms, recent routes and travel history. Through Bluetooth technology, the app detects information from other users in a particular area.
Students of MS in Innovation and Business, Asian Institute of Management (AIM)
The app asks users to take a survey identifying their health conditions and possible exposure to the virus. Survey results are processed using the DOH- approved triage algorithm.
UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team
The web portal features a dashboard tracker of cases, heat maps, an online symptoms checker, directory of hospitals and other relevant resources.
FASSSTER (Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance using Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler)
Ateneo Center for Computing Competency and Research (ACCCRE), University of the Philippines Manila – National Telehealth Center (UP-NTHC), Department of Health-Epidemiology Bureau, Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD)
This is a web-based disease surveillance platform that can generate models to predict infection spread, as well as the effect of interventions such as quarantine, social distancing and mass testing on the rates of confirmations, death and recovery.
Philippine Red Cross
The app gathers user data to trace contact events between people through wireless technology and geo-location. This allows Red Cross to notify users who had direct or indirect contact with a patient.
Multisys Technologies Corporation
Users are required to register online and accomplish an assessment of symptoms that they and members of their household might be experiencing. Data will be sent to a heat map in the platform’s dashboard.
FASSSTER Research Project, ACCCRE, TugonPH
This app allows self-reporting of symptoms to local health authorities. The data feeds into an LGU dashboard which serves as a case tracker.
Upon activation of the app, a unique QR code per user is generated. Geo-location data is used to for contact tracing.