Data in the time of COVID-19: what can be done in the global south?


Posted by Rohan Samarajiva on March 31, 2020  /  4 Comments

A pandemic is an epidemic that crosses national or continental boundaries.  Inherently, the effects of pandemics are global.  But because the health systems are weaker, and a greater proportion of the population is in the informal sector, the effects in terms of deaths and livelihoods may be stronger in the Global South.  Therefore, novel applications of data analytics are of great value in the Global South.  However, lower levels of datafication and network and smartphone penetration pose challenges.

Because diseases such as COVID-19 and Ebola are transmitted person-to-person, the effects are broader than people getting sick or dying.  Intuitive responses may be anti-social and regressive.  Prevention may involve certain actions that may disrupt social and economic activities.  Prevention also requires identification of and effective isolation or treatment of persons who have been in contact with persons diagnosed as diseased.  Given the possibility that asymptomatic individuals may still transmit the disease, various forms of mobility and contact restrictions may be applied to a relatively large number of persons.  Behavioral change and restraint are central elements.  Therefore, data, information and knowledge can assist in implementing efficient and effective responses.  The intention of this note is to provide a tour d’horizon, rather than explore issues in depth.  Where LIRNEasia has engaged in relevant research, it will be mentioned.

This tour d’horizon will place emphasis on the possible of uses of data to help stop or slow the spread of the disease directly.  It gives weight to what can be done in the short term.

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4 Comments


  1. All the QR code data tencent has collected and continues to collect, would serve as a validation set for all other methods: https://thenextweb.com/apps/2020/02/11/coronavirus-app-detector/ . I have to use it when entering and existing a bus, markets, restaurants, … business have to post it at the entrance and exits.

  2. Contact Tracing can also be done using Sahana: https://sahanafoundation.org
    It has just been deployed in Pakistan for this purpose with this feedback:
    “in our case, it is a perfect fit.”
    “Thanks a lot sahana eden team particularly Fran and Dominic. We were able to implement and train staff on the usage of Eden and uploaded all data. We are using disease mainly at this time and will start uploading data on hospitals and warehouse very soon. The system is very well designed and working seamlessly/flawlessly, contrary to my fears response time is great (Dominic is right that Sahana is not bandwidth-hungry at all). I must appreciate that this system will enable us to save lives and respond better and systematically. Thanks again Fran and Dominic for your support.”

  3. The specifications for developing a GPS + QR-code based contact tracking, into the existing Sahana disease tracking module is outlined in the Wiki:
    http://eden.sahanafoundation.org/wiki/BluePrint/Disease#TrackingSolutionusingQRCodes

  4. “rights to erasure” — in addition to PII and pseudonym , on the ‘data protection’ side of things, one may also need to consider — GDPR Article 17: the data subject has the right to request erasure of personal data related to them on any one of a number of grounds within 30 days : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Data_Protection_Regulation#3_Rectification_and_erasure

    I don’t have any experience to realize how it may or may not effect any clustering algorithms? If you only need to look back 14 days, perhaps not an issue or if you are using a Bayes theorem type model that only requires knowledge of the previous step? However, the data may not be available for future R&D on the long run?