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Because blockchain technologies are uniquely suited to verifying, securing and sharing data, they’re ideal for managing multi-party, inter-organizational, and cross-border transactions. Over the past five years, enterprises across the globe have vetted the technology with thousands of proofs of concept, but live deployments have been slow to come because partners using blockchain as a shared ledger have to agree on IP rights, governance, and business models. Government regulations have also impeded its widespread use.
It has taken the Covid-19 pandemic to push through the obstacles to blockchain adoption. The virus has revealed the weaknesses in our supply chains, our inability to deploy resources where they are most needed to address the pandemic, and difficulties in capturing and sharing the data needed to make rapid decisions in managing it. Blockchain solutions that have been under development for years have been repurposed and unleashed to address these challenges.
Consider the work of Colonel James Allen Regenor, USAF (ret). Since 2013, he’s been building a blockchain-powered platform for buying and selling traceable 3-D printed parts and printing instructions for them as well as traditionally manufactured parts that are scanned and assigned unique tracking identifiers. He first led the project at Moog, which designs and manufactures advanced motion controls for aerospace and medical uses, and then he founded VeriTX in 2019 to bring the platform to market. Regenor built the platform to enable a decentralized manufacturing process in which customers can order and print parts, for example for medical devices, for use where and when they need them. The blockchain ensures tamper-proof design and printing instructions.
When Regenor realized that his platform could help with the medical devices needed to battle Covid-19, he leapt into action. He founded a new company, Rapid Medical Parts, in March 2020. He rallied a global network of partners, and in just 12 days the Pentagon awarded his company a contract for converting the abundant supply of sleep apnea machines into ventilators. The conversion requires additional parts that Rapid Medical Parts will print, and at a tenth of the cost of a new ventilator. The units should be in hospitals by mid-May.
It’s not just the nimble startups that are leveraging blockchain solutions to fight the virus. Organizations including the World Health Organization, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and other tech companies, government agencies, and international health organizations are partnering in building the blockchain-based open data hub called MiPasa. The platform, created by the enterprise blockchain firm HACERA, aims to quickly and precisely detect Covid-19 carriers and infection hotspots around the world. MiPasa will securely share information among individuals, hospitals, and authorities that will aid in public health analysis.
The system creates digital identifiers that cannot be linked back to the data source and that prevent the dissemination of personally identifiable information. MiPasa validates the data by reconciling disparate data sources, such as figures from WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others and ensuring that new data matches the original. As IBM explains in its Blockchain Blog, “MiPasa is designed to…synthesize data sources, address their inconsistencies, help identify errors or misreporting and seamlessly integrate credible new feeds.” By allowing global health organizations and companies to securely collaborate and share information while assuring robust privacy protection, MiPasa should become an important tool in helping to control the epidemic. Says MiPasa co-founder and HACERA CEO Jonathan Levi, “We have a huge community of organizations supporting and helping — instead of resistance at every step of the decision making process we are getting uplifted and pushed forward every step of the way.”
Tech startup Tymlez is partnering with the Dutch government in a technology consortium, using its network modelling technology to map and analyze the medical supply chain. This provides the basis for a blockchain-enabled decentralized marketplace. “Creating the transparency about time-sensitive and critical supplies such as PPE and ventilators reduces the risk of price hoarding, quality issues and even fraud in the network” says Tymlez CTO Jaap Gordijn. Adds Fadime Kaya, the company’s Senior Blockchain Ecosystem Architect, “If everybody in the network has the same information about product and product availability, if there is a single version of the truth, available to all actors in the network, we can enable critical product distribution to where the need is greatest.”
The Honduran government and another startup are also rolling out a health care blockchain solution designed with data privacy in mind. According to Coindesk, the app Civitas lets medical professionals share confidential data that enables patients to travel to care facilities despite the stay at home orders. Civitas allows police to verify if the patient has travel rights, even if they don’t have access to patient’s medical record, and it allows the government to develop more accurate and real time data about the distribution of infection.
As might be expected, China is a leader in leveraging blockchain in the fight against Covid-19. According to Cointelegraph, 20 blockchain applications were launched to address Covid-19 over the course just two weeks in February, including an online screening system that securely manages health records and a platform that supports the management, allocation, and donation of relief supplies. Another new blockchain-based technology, reported in Barron’s, uses disposable bracelets to enforce quarantine programs for foreign visitors entering Hong Kong.
To use blockchains — and other technologies — to help build a better future, leaders must protect data privacy and be transparent about data usage. Too often, crises can prompt widespread erosion of individual freedoms. Lest one forget, after 9/11, the U.S. passed the Patriot Act to fight terrorism, but that greater aim came at a cost to our individual liberties. The power of blockchain is the ability to share data without revealing personal information, if they are designed to do that. As we fight this pandemic, we urge leaders to follow the examples of Rapid Medical Parts, MiPasa, Tymlex, and Civitas: design blockchain solutions that capture and secure the data our decision makers need without eroding our democratic values.
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