Information about the Coronavirus is scattered and we would love a place with all the information on hand. The Kenya Ministry of Health and WHO both provided WhatsApp chatrooms to help disseminate pertinent information but there’s still some questions we would like answered. What if there was an App?
Is it possible that I caught the virus when I went out today? Did I cross paths with someone who’s infected? How prevalent is the coronavirus in my local community? If I’m feeling sick, where can I go to get tested or find treatment? There seem to be no answers for these more specific questions. WHO is working on an app to try and answer all these questions and more.
Who is working on the app?
A group of doctors and engineers have come together to create an app that will answer such questions. Daniel Kraft, the U.S.-based physician who’s leading the charge, says his group has “gotten the green light” from the World Health Organization (WHO). They are going to build the open-source app.
“We’re putting together a SWAT team of tech avengers,” says Kraft.
The WHO app would similarly rely on people agreeing to share their data with health authorities. Kraft describes their approach to data sharing as “privacy-centric.”
Kraft has put out calls for collaborators over the last few weeks. His recruits include a former chief data scientist for Microsoft, a former engineering manager at Google, and MIT professor Ramesh Raskar.CHECK OUT OUR COVID-19 COVERAGE HERE
How Does The App Work?
As it happens in Kenya, when you are tested positive with COVID-19, officials will ask you to recall your movements. Then they will contact those you might have been with and ask them to self-quarantine.
However, this app is aimed at making work a lot easier. Public health officials will try to determine whom an infected person has been in contact with.
This will be accomplished by looking at the location records stored in infected people’s phones. Then they cross-reference that information with other people’s data and quickly and precisely determine who’s at risk.
In China and South Korea, apps that collected data for contact tracing were key to stopping the coronavirus’s spread. However, they also enabled mass surveillance in China and the release of private information in South Korea.
Epidemiologists are currently debating whether such apps should be used in Europe and the United States. In Britain, authorities are developing a contact-tracing app that only collects location data from users who opt-in.
What Will The App Have?
Version 1 of the app will contain only basic features, Kraft says, and its design is still in flux. His priority is to get the app into Google’s and Apple’s app stores as soon as possible.
“Perfection is the enemy of the good,” he says. “We want to lay the groundwork for something that would be scalable for COVID—and for other pandemics in the future.”
When users install the app, they’ll first see:
- WHO-approved information about how to stay safe (including guidelines on hand washing and social distancing).
- A chatbot-like interface will ask the user if they’re experiencing symptoms, walk them through a self-assessment.
- Direct them to a local site for testing or treatment if necessary.
- In the future, it might also tell people who need treatment which hospitals near them have available beds.
Kraft says the app will initially offer information in the six official languages of the WHO. It may tailor the information to match the user’s age demographic.
“We need to message things differently for baby boomers and millennials,” he says.
The contact tracing function won’t be included in the first version of the app, but Kraft hopes to get it up and running soon.