Tech giants, Apple and Google have publicly launched their software tools that will make it possible for public health agencies to develop coronavirus contact-tracing apps.
The API (application programming interface) which is called the Exposure Notification System will help governments and health agencies build apps that notify individuals of potential exposure to others who are confirmed cases of COVID-19. This will be done while adopting both company’s privacy-centric model – one reason that has made it clamp down on other contact tracing apps.
In some states across Nigeria, full lockdown measures have been lifted. Following these, there has been a roll-out of strict guidelines to be followed by residents as they step out. This includes the use of facemasks, conscious social distancing and a set curfew.
During this period, confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country have doubled. With several concerns about flagrant disregard for the set guidelines by residents, there’s a need to put in place measures to contain the virus as movements begin to get back to normal.
One of such effective measures will be the use of contact tracing apps. Contact tracing and testing in Nigeria has been largely selective, restricted to those who may have come in contact with high-risk individuals. However, there are chances some others might have but are not accounted for until they come down with the full symptoms.
With a contact tracing app, everyone who has come in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 (when they were asymptomatic) is notified, so that they can be contacted and tested by authorities. These apps log onto every other device and ID of everyone in the range they have come in contact with via Bluetooth.
Countries like the UK, Austria, Singapore, China, South Korea, France, and Norway have mandated the use of contact tracing apps for their citizens.
While there are a few platforms that have developed such solutions in Nigeria, the awareness and adoption rate has been poor. Also, if not adopted by the authorities, it’s almost useless since confirmed cases data are not made known.
However, with the Google and Apple API, there’s a wider pool of opportunities posed. First, the API is interoperable. This means travelling can be opened quicker as citizens can continue to be contact-traced as they move around as long as they use apps with the API.
It also offers developers access to added Bluetooth functionality to solve a problem existing apps have of iPhones sometimes failing to detect each other.
It also solves the issues of privacy which has made users sceptical of using these apps. The API encrypts all Bluetooth metadata, ensuring that user details cannot be revealed to protect the identity of the diagnosed person. It also ensures that geolocation data is not accessible by the apps.
Already, Apple and Google have said that the US and 22 other countries across five continents have been given access to the API upon request. It will be very important to see Nigeria implement such soon as movements begin to pick up.
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