How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Accelerated Blockchain?

In recent years, the one technology we have been hearing about repeatedly is Blockchain – which originated with the development of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. With the whole world seeking to find solutions to manage the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many business owners have found the use of Blockchain technology valuable across industries. A 2019 Global Blockchain survey carried out by Deloitte revealed that 53% of the organizations believe that this technology has become critical for their growth.

Image source: Deloitte

While Blockchain technology was already growing, its growth has accelerated now due to the current Coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 related Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) market is predicted to touch $68 billion every year – according to the US Homeland Security Research

How exactly has COVID-19 accelerated the use of Blockchain technology? Let us look at some of the key areas.

Blockchain in medical supply chain management

Blockchain has proven to be a game-changer in the area of medical and pharma supply chains, beyond simply enhancing patient data storage. At a time when there is an acute shortage of medical supplies, Blockchain-enabled supply chain management is empowering the seamless delivery of any drug from the manufacturing company to the patient. 

Susanne Somerville of Link Lab envisions a future world, “where each time a drug changes hands, the technology can automatically verify the authenticity of the drug.” 

Major pharmaceuticals like Pfizer and Genentech are making efforts to enable Blockchain in their supply chains – in order to track their drug supply and establish more transparency.

Overall, Blockchain in health care provides the following advantages:

  • No third-party vendor costs 
  • Improved transparency
  • A streamlined medical supply chain
  • Elimination of counterfeit drugs

Tracking donations using Blockchain

As a philanthropist, you may face the uncertainty of not knowing where your charitable donations are going. Is the charity spending your money on the right channel? Alex, the founder of Giftcoin, opines that “lack of trust and transparency in charities is among the major challenges” in this field. Plus, a recent survey in the U.K. reveals that donors would be ready to spend nearly 50% more money, if they could track how their money was being utilized.

With Blockchain, there is no longer any issue related to a lack of trust and transparency. It can not only eliminate any intermediaries – but also provide complete security and guarantee for every charitable transaction.

An example of this is Binance Charity Foundation’s (BCF) launch of a Blockchain-supported donation portal for charities and other non-profit organizations at the UNCTAD World Investment Forum. With its tagline, ‘We make giving transparent,’ each transaction done in this charitable platform is stored using Blockchain – with details that are traceable, immutable, and dependable. 

Contact tracing using Blockchain

Since the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, contact tracing has become a favorite “buzzword” and tool used to control the spread of this deadly virus. 

Among the primary modes of pandemic control, medical personnel need to have seamless access to the latest medical data – as well as track any Covid-positive individuals, and track the health of those who have come in contact with them.Recent research conducted by Washington Post shows that digital privacy is one of the main concerns behind the resistance to these  contact tracing apps. 

Image source: Statista

How then does Blockchain help in automatic contact tracing – without the use of any apps? According to Hasshi Sudler of the Villanova College of Engineering, 

“Blockchain can be the data source that allows medical facilities to share this information internationally.”

Additionally, it is difficult to tamper with Blockchain data as changing one block requires all the connected blocks to be changed as well. This technology can prevent the spread of false information – such as false symptoms, travel history, or even inaccurate data from faulty testing kits.

Blockchain in contact tracing provides multiple benefits including:

  • Reducing data privacy concerns
  • Improving data verification
  • Transferring of medical information to health authorities more efficiently

Blockchain and COVID-19 vaccine distribution 

Can Blockchain help in the rapid distribution of COVID vaccines? As per the latest market reports, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is partnering with many pharmaceutical companies in the area of vaccine development. Some of the vaccines that are likely to be distributed include mRNA-1273 from Moderna, AZD1222 from AstraZeneca, and BNT162 from Pfizer & BioNTech.

While the development of the COVID vaccine is progressing at full pace, its distribution might cause problems with over-burdened health authorities and the current distribution systems. Even with successful vaccine trials, COVID vaccines cannot be deemed effective – if they are not trusted and efficiently distributed amongst the larger population. Add to that, 77% of Americans are concerned about the overall safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

Blockchain technology can infuse faster delivery, transparency, and accountability into the vaccine distribution system. Gina Perry, a pharmaceutical sales executive at VAI, is of the opinion that 

“Blockchain-based COVID supply chains would work well as they will instill trust for consumers.”

Even IBM’s Blockchain solutions leader, Mark Treshock agrees with the effectiveness of this technology. According to him, it offers a 

verifiable and immutable solution that represents…the fact that I’ve been vaccinated. Because it is Blockchain, it is immutable, so it ties back to a very verifiable record that represents my status…vaccinated.

Infectious disease tracking using Blockchain 

Although the current pandemic has accelerated the adoption of Blockchain technology in the healthcare sector, it can bring multiple benefits in the area of tracking infectious diseases. 

With both communicable and non-communicable diseases largely spreading at a community level, strong public health surveillance – based on Blockchain – is an absolute necessity. An example of this is the Nipah virus that can travel very fast and cannot be stopped with an inefficient disease surveillance system. 

The flow of medical information among self-regulating organizations, patients, and physicians need to be centralized for seamless and effective results. Thus, a decentralized public ledger like Blockchain can be used for efficient management of infectious diseases – through proper tracking and preventing their further spread.

Success stories of Blockchain technology apps for fighting the pandemic 

  • PHBCalerts.org recently provided free vendor monitoring services to around 2,800 health authorities with the help of vendor-alert Blockchain. This goes a long way in helping the health warriors in this pandemic as it verifies vendors supplying COVID-19 protective equipment. The viability of the vendors is thoroughly checked with the help of verified hospital reports that are stored for each vendor in the Blockchain. It becomes easier for healthcare authorities to only use vendors that are legitimate.
  • Data visualization tool Hashlog, introduced by Blockchain-enabled technology developer Acoer enables real-time tracking of this virus. The service provided includes a platform for supporting medicolegal death investigation named ‘Health Data Explorer’, data on clinical trials, dementia, and mortality with the help of a data analytics dashboard, and a platform for Hedera Hashgraph, which is a decentralized ledger technology. 

Conclusion

As it is now evident, the development of Blockchain technology has been significantly accelerated during this COVID-19 pandemic, specifically due to the demands in the healthcare supply chain. These advancements will translate to many other industries. Blockchain is here to stay.

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