UL’s ground-breaking research responds to Covid-19

By Prof Tivani Mashamba-Thompson

Africa can be new epicentre of virus

The University of Limpopo (UL) has joined global re­search efforts by present­ing collaborative ground-break­ing research aimed at assisting governments with their strate­gic response to the Covid-19 global pandemic.

To help fasten the detec­tion process, especially during the escalation of measures in many African countries, Prof Tivani Mashamba-Thomp­son (NRF-rated medical scien­tist at UL’s department of pub­lic health) and Ellen Crayton (Genesis Technology and Man­agement Group, United States) recommend emerging health innovations such as low-cost blockchain and artificial in­telligence (AI) technology to be coupled with point-of-carediagnostics to enable self-test­ing of people in isolation or lock­down as a result of exposure to Covid-19.

Blockchain is a digital, pub­lic ledger that records online transactions and involves the digital distribution of ledger andconsensus algorithms.

It eliminates all the threats of intermediaries.

With a particular focus onAfrica, the university is engaged in multi-disciplinary, inter-in­stitutional and multi-sectoralresearch on the implementation of low-cost blockchain and AI coupled self-testing and track­ing system, and on essentialdiagnostics to guide the admin­istration on the Covid-19 drugproducts.

The researchers predict that Africa has the potential tobecome the new epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak because of its dense communities, infor­mal settlements, and rural andresource-limited settings, which are most vulnerable as the re­gion is already grappling with poor health outcomes and high mortality rates linked to the quadruple of prevalent diseas­es like HIV, tuberculosis and noncommunicable.

In their recent article titled Blockchain and Artificial In­telligence Technology for Nov­el Coronavirus Disease-19 Self-Testing, published in Di­agnostics – Open Access Jour­nal this month, Prof Masham­ba-Thompson and Crayton reported a growing concern about the failure to find and report Covid-19 cases, espe­cially given weak health sys­tems, inadequate surveillance, insufficient laboratory capacity and limited public health infra­structure in African countries.

The study indicates that the implementation of low-cost blockchain and AI will helpimprove access to accurate di­agnosis, monitoring and report­ing of health outbreaks to curb the pandemic, which has nowsurpassed the million mark across the globe, and left thou­sands of Africans in over 45 sub-Saharan countries infected.

Some of the benefits of block­chain and AI system, according to the study, will help alert the outbreak surveillance authori­ties to all the tests performed as well as the number of positive test results.

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