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Blockchain Usage for Pandemic Response and Revival

Governments all over the globe were in the same boat when it came to preparedness in handling the Covid-19 pandemic and for sure could have done better to mitigate the damages. Admittedly, some countries have done much better to curb the spread than others but no one is completely out of the woods yet. The response has revealed serious deficiencies in systems for innovation, commerce, data governance, and technology infrastructure rendering the supply chains to be broken. Based on research data, the case of a permanent pandemic response task force, (if not already present) to explore, strategize and work out the implementation of emerging technologies such as AI, blockchain, etc.,for a faster and smoother response has been made. Now is as good a time as any to understand that not just to help avoid pandemics in the future but to help revive from this crisis stronger which by no means is over.

A few use cases that have come out to be more important than others, primarily in the healthcare sector, are identity management for citizens and doctors alike, healthcare record management, equipment and pharma supply chain, health insurance, hospital administration, provenance tracking and quantitative check analytics for any packages, policy implemented.

Self Sovereign Identity

One thing that has been made clear in the last three month — personal identity documents, financial as well as medical records are very important. Any benefits or incentivization or commercial value gained from utilizing the user records should be transferred, in majority to the user who can exercise his rights to permit or deny the usage of his data.

Ideally, a blockchain based record keeping platform for reporting, tracking, and notifying (that is global in nature) yet respecting privacy, transparency and security, is a need of the hour. The platform must exist independent of any corporation, government, or other third party, and should not be subject to the agency risk of executives or political parties. It must interoperate with the systems at these institutions, even as it outlasts them. To start off this initiative, a self-sovereign identity platform, will be the first step, which will provide a tamper proof global digital identity that can neither be bestowed nor revoked by any central administrator, is enforceable in any context, easily verifiable, in person and online.

Such a system would be very helpful in improving traceability in normal as well as emergency situations and yet at the same time it would not lead to skepticism about the system as the data stored is decentralized and cannot be hacked or tampered with, leading to better governance. The Aarogya Setu tracking App (though not using blockchain) has taken India by storm, with more than a 100 million downloads in a month, but how it performs (with a couple of data hacks already reported) in the next phase would be important for the health and wellness of everyone in the country. These new approaches to privacy and ID management give citizens ownership of their medical information and their identities, the facts of their existence, and the data they create as they live their lives. The self-sovereign identity is one of the pillars of a new social contract for the digital economy, and will be critical to the transformation to a more open, inclusive, and private economy. A scalable and robust SSI system which makes it easy to register, identify and verify credentials.

Supply chain: Efficiency or Transparency?

Supply chains for goods, across the board, have been adjusted for maximum efficiency and revenue — thus making it vulnerable to failure in times when the needs fluctuate which in turn causes shortages or abundance, latency and price manipulations. Some of the examples across the globe have been mask and medical equipment shortages, food shortages, personnel shortage and fund shortages which have been felt by countries, businesses and individuals alike (some more than others). The infrastructure opacity, corrupt peers and ease with which sensitive information can be stolen (and in some cases have been stolen) are some of the facts that prove this point. The need for transparent supply chains for seamless functionality, better tracking, verification, future and situational strategic planning and greater accountability has never been more important.

Zeroing down upon the healthcare supply chain — a common thread of disconnect has been observed between the supply and the demand with shortages ranging from masks, protective gears, certified healthcare professionals, adequate hospital facilities all the while assuring healthcare professionals, hospital administrators, and citizens that they will have what they need, when and where they need it, to stave off hoarding and discourage purchase orders for six months’ worth of supplies, as is a common practice in normal times.

Keeping Economy Afloat: Experimenting with alternatives

Exodus towards a cashless economy had already started and now is imminent. Such a move will not only help in better access and traceability of funds but also will be cheaper to issue/create and help in curbing money laundering. It will enhance financial inclusiveness for the unbanked and underbanked population. Agreed this can’t be done in a short span of time, but the wheels have to be set in motion to be ahead of the curve. Once social distancing norms are eased further the revival of the economy won’t be smooth or easy. For now, the challenge facing central banks and governments is how to minimize the damage to the economy by introducing additional support packages for individuals, businesses, industries, etc. to help them weather the current tide as well as be ready for the ‘new normal’. Either central banks can provide loans or just print more money to send it to their bank accounts as stimulus support or explore digital currencies as a serious payment alternative, which will not only be easy to distribute but also cost effective to mint and surveil. Of course potholes of corruption, scams, misuse of funds and delay in support are things to be looked out for, something which could be avoided with digital currencies. Placing a blockchain enabled supply chain for transparency and traceability would be recommended to minimize the time to achieve the sustaining the economy goal. Issuing programmable money using blockchain (which inherently is secure, transparent and traceable) will require a lot of testing and deliberation by the fiscal policy makers and central banks — but retail Central Bank Digital Currencies seem highly likely to be put in use sooner rather than later. Keeping track of who is benefiting from the relief packages is as important as declaring the packages themselves.

A transparent, secure, traceable, immutable platform which functions only when all the stakeholders participate is an answer to this. It will not only help address the issues with the supply chain in financing but also help businesses and individuals actually in need to avail some much needed financial support.

Rewards for responsible behavior

It cannot be stressed enough how important behavioral change for individuals, institutions and businesses will be coming out of this pandemic. A small lapse can cause a ripple effect to derail the progress. Thus, to insure this it is important to set up a reward system to encourage the right habits along with apt regulations. For Individuals, blockchain based reward systems will not only make it possible to implement an incentive model but also transfer the ownership of user data back to them. For Businesses and Institutions specially engaged in the healthcare ecosystem, blockchain instantiates a set of principles to encourage a collaborative, open, and transparent ecosystem in which all stakeholders come together and co-create data with full transparency, public access, and shared control, all for the benefit of the communities they serve.

Implementation Challenges

Blockchain is not a magic wand that solves all data and transaction related problems. It requires all stakeholders — governments, institutions, population, engaged populace, and businesses to contribute to the system creating a decentralized alliance but for some use cases it may be hard for some stakeholders to relinquish control.

Use cases for blockchain for all sectors

Using technologies such as blockchain, AI, IoT and machine learning to create secure, accessible and robust systems is unavoidable. How the infrastructure, regulations, recognition and funds are arranged for the same would be interesting to observe. To summarize, some of the prioritized use cases for blockchain implementation to help revive stronger out of the current crisis and be prepared for others in the future Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC), SupplyChain, Healthcare, Self Sovereign Identity, Record Management, Financial tools and options, Education and awareness.

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