“There’s no choice but to act now” - WHO Contact Tracing template app available today

March 19, 2020

It is evident that the global community will be focused on sustained COVID-19 response for the near future, and the clear messaging from the world’s health organizations has been abundantly clear: every day that we are not responding to this crisis in full force will cost lives. 

Source: @tomaspueyo

To support organizations in rapid response to the crisis, we’ve released an application template which encodes the full WHO FFX Contact Tracing and Reporting protocols and supporting materials to help organizations roll out their apps. Anyone can create an application based on this template which can be rolled out to mobile phones in minutes, and can be customized for delivery through CommCareHQ without programmers. Project spaces on CommCareHQ are free for anyone performing COVID-19 response.

Dimagi is going to continue to produce and publish new templates for response as we can create and validate them, but that is not the message I want to convey with this post. Rather, I want to highlight a message from WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

There is no one-size fits all approach… Your actions now will determine the course of the #COVID19 outbreak in your country… There’s no choice but to act now.

Organizations and governments agencies (at every level) who intend to use technology to support controlling the spread of COVID-19, need to start today with the best resources available in their control. If you have access to a system (DHIS2, ODK, CommCare, RapidSMS, Google Forms, or any other tool) that you can make COVID-response-ready without waiting for someone else? Do it. Now. 

Do not count on a better option tomorrow

There is a tremendous amount of wishful thinking about what technology can accomplish (the mythical ‘silver bullets’) even in the best of times. In a crisis, this tendency is extraordinarily dangerous but easy to fall into when faced with the limitations of existing infrastructure. Whether it’s a vaccine or open source ventilators, the idea that new technology will solve the problem is extremely tempting for us to become complacent to. 

Unparalleled technology expert Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, when asked about the importance of new ventilator technology to increase the capacity of the health system remarked “There are a lot of efforts to do this. If we do social distancing (“shut down”) properly then the surge of cases won’t be as overwhelming.” 

There is a critical reason that a technologist and global health expert isn’t focused on new technology in global health response. It will not be available in time. In 2014 the Ebola crisis provided dozens of examples of this anti-pattern. From Ebola-Proof Tablets which were available just in time for Liberia to be declared Ebola-Free to continued hope that Google’s magic balloons will let us ignore the reality of delivering services without the internet. 

There is a critical role for new technology in epidemics. The importance of vaccines and long term improvements to our ability to control outbreaks cannot be overstated. Our early response, however, is the most powerful tool that most organizations have to control the long term impact. The most important facet of that response is time

For that response we need to rely on the existing tools that work today, not the ones being promised in the future. Dr. Tedros’s call to action to start now was made on March 3rd, more than two weeks ago. Governments who heeded that call immediately will be responsible for countless saved lives.

Governments who heed that call today will too.

Written by
Clayton Sims

Chief Technology Officer

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