|LETTER TO THE EDITOR
|Ahead of print publication
Use of mobile app for curbing COVID-19 pandemic in India
Aarti A Kinikar, Rajesh K Kulkarni
Department of Pediatrics, B.J. Government Medical College, Pune, Maharashtra, India
|Date of Submission||09-Jun-2020|
|Date of Decision||21-Jul-2020|
|Date of Acceptance||14-Aug-2020|
Rajesh K Kulkarni,
Department of Pediatrics, B.J. Government Medical College, Pune, Maharashtra
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
As of July 27, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in about 1,400,000 infections and 32,000 deaths across India. The Government of India had announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020, and this was probably the only way, at least in the initial phase, to control the spread by keeping everyone home as much as possible. Lockdowns cannot be imposed indefinitely or for long time, especially in a developing country like India where most people depend on daily wages for their living. It is therefore necessary to find a way, therefore, to trace and isolate new cases so that we do not have to shut everything down again.
The easiest way to control the spread of a virus is to immediately inform the individuals who recently had close contact with the diagnosed patients. The health authorities need detailed location information from both healthy individuals and diagnosed patients. It has become apparent that manual contact tracing and quarantining of suspects can only be effective in the 1st day of the spread before the exponential growth overwhelms the health authorities and administration. The solution may lie in leveraging technology, specifically a mobile app which would record when people who downloaded it came into the same space as other people who have also downloaded the app. The app needs to be downloaded by symptomatic as well asymptomatic individuals. His/her location and Bluetooth are used by the app. In case later on, the person becomes symptomatic and tests positive for COVID-19, all other mobiles (which also need to have the app downloaded) which were in proximity to the COVID-19-positive patient's mobile receive a notification telling them that they are at a risk of infection as they were in contact with a COVID-19 case.
Based on this principle, the Indian government launched the app “Aarogya Setu” (which translates from Sanskrit to “A Bridge of health”) and more than 100 million people have already downloaded this app making it the most downloaded health-care app in the world. The app has been considered one of the seven important ways to fight the COVID-19 pandemic by the government and has been applauded by the World Bank. The app not only helps track the contacts of a COVID-19 case but also has effective, easy to understand information, education, and communication material (Do's and Don'ts, safety measures, self-risk assessment, and links to tweets/updates of MOHFW). The app will also help government identify “COVID hotspots.”
South Korea and Singapore have already developed and are using these types of apps. These countries have a comprehensive and effective public health infrastructure. These actions have probably helped both these countries as they have so far been able to control the spread of the virus. South Korea has made downloading the app for tracking mandatory and there are provisions to fine people who have not downloaded it. Singapore is mass-collecting GPS data and data scientists are analyzing these data to find people who may have the infection. India has resorted to a simple, voluntary mobile app that could perform a similar function, be less invasive, and effectively control the pandemic.
There are concerns about data safety and privacy violation with any app that can access location and other data of the user. The app specifies that all data on the device are encrypted and are sent as anonymous data to a server. The data collected is deleted after a period of time and the data collection, as far as user inputs go, is minimal. It is important to note that for the app to be effective it needs a large user base. The government has already taken great efforts to tackle the pandemic however active citizen participation is the only way this pandemic can be slowed down.
Digital contact tracing could play a critical role in the way the pandemic unfolds in India. The app offers benefits for both society and individuals. It may reduce the number of cases and enable personal safety and social responsibility. All health care personnel should contribute to the government efforts by downloading the app and educating the general public. If successful, this technology may be used in future to control outbreaks of infectious diseases in the early stages.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
| References|| |
Cho H, Ippolito D, Yu YW. Contact Tracing Mobile Apps for COVID-19: Privacy Considerations and Related Trade-Offs. Available from: https://arxiv.org/abs/20030.11511
. [Last accessed on 2020 Jul 27].