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.