Contact tracing mobile tech to tackle COVID-19

29 July 2020 | Web Article Number: ME202019945

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Contact tracing mobile tech to tackle COVID-19

TELKOM-owned tech company BCX has partnered with the Department of Health (DOH) to develop and deploy COVIDConnect, a contact tracing solution aimed at combating the spread of the coronavirus in South Africa.

The mobile phone-based technology uses several data sources from laboratories, healthcare facilities and screening service offered through WhatsApp to locate primary infected individuals as well as close contacts.

“The solution supports government’s broader containment strategy,” said BCX CEO Jonas Bogoshi. “We are essentially speeding up the ability to locate and provide additional support to the primary infected individuals and give early warning to possible secondary infected individuals.”

COVIDConnect provides the DOH with a visual representation of the most affected areas in the country, providing government with an opportunity to manage and divert resources to the most affected areas, and importantly, applying critical resources deployment strategy.

“It is our hope and wish that COVIDConnect will contribute and complement the Department of Health’s broader response to reducing the spread of the coronavirus. It will also assist in identifying hotspots across the country, providing a consolidated view of how the virus is spreading within the country and across various provinces,” said Bogoshi.

COVIDConnect uses WhatsApp, SMS, and USSD and is not a smartphone application. Bogoshi said they had chosen these technologies to ensure they reached as many people as possible, as not everyone had smartphones. He said an app may be added later.

DOH Director-General Dr Anban Pillay urged the public to start engaging with the SMS messages they are sending to offer laboratory results.

“Knowing your results is the first step for us to monitor your health condition, and receive contacts from you, so they can be supported too. This entire process starts with an SMS you receive with a WhatsApp link to engage the positive persons and their contacts.

“Precise data from the public is key. The more accurate the data, the better it is for government to make faster decisions and put in place the necessary precautionary measures that are needed to safeguard our country,” Pillay said.

How it works:

  • COVIDConnect allows the public to screen for COVID-19 on WhatsApp (0600 123 456) and USSD (Dial *134*832#)
  • Shares test results and provides advice to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 through GovChat’s LetsTalk line 082 046 8553. An SMS is sent to inform when results are available
  • Anonymously alerts people who may have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. An SMS is sent to notify reported close contacts by those testing positive
  • COVIDConnect draws data from various data sources and provides district health teams with the ability to search for individuals via a table interface, giving them direct communication with the individual via SMS.
  • Builds a map view of SA with functionality to filter by province and include all primary infected individuals listed on the system, whilst identifying the close contacts
  • Heat map overlays indicate the volumes of infected relative to population estimates

“In the age of digital disruption, the need to adapt and innovate is more apparent than ever before. Technology has the power to combat the pandemic being experienced across the world,” said Bogoshi.

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