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Tech Startups Rush to Develop Immunity Passports

Mounir Jamil

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Tech Startups Rush to Develop Immunity Passports

Tech start-ups are rushing to develop immunity passports. These are official certificates that are given to people that have recovered from COVID-19 or were asymptomatic before. The idea is that people link their identity to a coronavirus test result and then share their status with third parties such as employers, restaurants and airports.

That’s how the concept works in theory, however several questions arise in practice which has prompted some of the entrepreneurs behind immunity passports to address these issues in more detail.

Software engineers from FinTech firm TranferWire developed digital immunity passports that are currently being tested in Estonia. Co-founder and CEO Taavet Hinrikus claims they won’t be publically launched until there is scientific consensus on COVID-19 immunity.

Hinrikus added that an agreement about immunity should be universal. There are agreements in the scientific community that antibodies for COVID-19 exist, however there is no agreement about their parameters.

Other companies are working on the tech for immunity passports like British startups Onfido and Yoti, and Germany’s IDNow. However, many scientists still aren’t convinced that these passports will work in practice.

Dr. Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading doesn’t believe that immunity passports are the way forward. Acknowledging they are a great idea, he doesn’t believe they will stand up to the scrutiny.

WHO has urged governments not to enforce handing out of immunity passports, whether physical or digital, due to doubting which antibody tests confirm immunity.

Clarke added we are way off in knowing exactly what makes somebody immune. Worrying about antibodies is like stressing a minor detail while ignoring the whole. He mentioned that antibodies are not the be all and end all of immunity and can actually take a few days to a couple of weeks to fully develop.

Some experts criticize that immunity certificates are unethical as they give certain privileges to people that have contracted COVID-19 and even encourage people to have the disease so they can obtain immune status. Clarke mentions that immunity passports could potentially lead people to falsifying their own antibody tests.

The Ada Lovelace Institute, an artificial intelligence research group reported that immunity passports pose very high risks in terms of social cohesion, exclusion, discrimination, and vulnerability.

Harsh Sinha, TransferWire’s team CTO acknowledges that immunity passports are not a perfect solution, and are more an iterative approach that can evolve with the science of the coronavirus immunity. Sinha adds that whether we have data and information on this immunity or not, states in the US or countries in Europe and Asia are reopening. Without data it’s a bigger risk than if you have been tested already and if you can control who viewed your test results and have a system that allows the disclosure of that information. Sinha mentioned that they are ready to move in if it turns out that antibody tests do not confer immunity.

Onfido whose software works by verifying identities by matching a selfie with a government-issued ID card, is working with Sidehide, a German hotel booking app on integrating technology to have guests present a unique QR code that validates they hold an immunity certificate.

Onfido has held talks with the US government about introducing immunity passports and were approached by the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee for submitting a proposal regarding the use of tech to fight global disease outbreaks.

Husayn Kassai Onfido co-founder and CEO commented that they are in consultations with other governments to create a seamless process.

However, there is still growing fear that these passes infringe on people’s privacy, an issue that becomes more serious given the involvement of sensitive health data. Clarke mentioned that any blood test is a medical record, and is confidential information.

Junior social media strategist with a degree in business. Passionate about technology, film, music and video games.

MedTech

Top 3 digital health technologies post- pandemic

Mounir Jamil

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Top 3 digital health technologies post- pandemic

It’s certain that the current pandemic will eventually come to an end. However, some of the digital health technologies we’ve adopted along the way have proven to be indispensable, and some technologies may not be so prominent after the crisis.

Here are top 3 digital health technologies that are likely to stick around post- pandemic.

1. Disinfectant robots

Ultraviolet (UV) lights, more specifically UV-C is a well-established digital disinfecting method that is commonly used in the healthcare world. It works by altering the virus’ genetic material, that way UV lights make sure that virus doesn’t replicate. However, if exposed to human skin, it can lead to sunburns, irritations, and in the worst case, skin cancer.

All that aside, the benefits of UV-C in effectively disinfecting hospitals is seriously attracting robotics engineers and healthcare workers alike. Companies such as YouiBot are reimagining and redesigning their current robots into UV disinfectant ones. Danish company UVD Robots has shipped hundreds of their existing disinfectant robots around the world during the pandemic.

In addition to saving valuable time and decreasing the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals, these robots will also prevent hospitals from getting infections.

2. AI for predicting future pandemics

In an ideal tech world, AI can predict a viral outbreak weeks, if not months in advance. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal tech world, but the good news is that we can work towards forecasting such a system with the help of current technologies.

AI company BlueDot has issued early first warnings, after scrutinizing massive data sets from news, airlines, and animal disease outbreaks. Their algorithim managed to detect a certain trend which Epidemiologists later analyzed further to confirm an outbreak.

But BlueDot is the exception and not the rule, so we must reverse the situation in order to better handle the next public health crisis. Given the massive predictive power that AI brings to the healthcare sector, the proper authorities should utilize its full potential and help in making it more commonplace in hospital settings.

3. Remote care via smartphones 

It’s a sad reality that the pandemic kick-started telemedicine for mainstream adoption. Before the crisis, only 1 in 10 US patients used telemedicine services, the number has now increased up to 158% in the same country.

With lockdowns enforced globally, people are utilizing the power of their smartphones for their mental and physical wellbeing. These new digital health technologies greatly reduce the risk of cross infection all while offering patients quality care from the comfort of their own homes

These solutions greatly reduce the risk of cross-infection while offering patients quality care from the comfort of their homes. What’s more, they prove that face-to-face doctor-patient visits are unnecessary. A Global Markets Insights report from April this year, projects that the telemedicine market value will reach $175.5 billion by 2026, indicating the need for remote care in the coming years.

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MedTech

The glaring problem with COVID-19 vaccine deployment

Adnan Kayyali

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The glaring problem with COVID-19 vaccine deployment

As most of us already know, creating a vaccine is only half the challenge of beating the pandemic. Getting 7 billion people vaccinated is a colossal undertaking, the scale of which has never been seen in history. How will the world manage and sustain COVID-19 vaccine deployment, and ensure equitable access to everyone?

It is not an easy task, and many people in positions of responsibility may have to make some difficult decisions. In short, we will not have enough vaccines for everyone by the end of this year, even if a particular vaccine candidate is deemed adequate.

In a document by the CDC published as a rough skeletal guideline, four categories of people were prioritized with newly produced or procured vaccine doses. This is to strategically use the scarce resources available to minimize the loss of life and maximize equity.

The document classified four categories of people that would receive the vaccine at different times according to a number of factors:

Category 1:

– High risk healthcare workers. First responders

– High risk older adults in congregate or crowded settings

Category 2:

Workers in critical industries and those living in an environment of high risk such as prison.

Category 3:

Young adults and children, and workers of essential industries that were not included in phase 2.

Category 4:

Everyone else.

In an Audio Interview “Guidelines for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment”, Eric J. Rubin, M.D., Ph.D. concurred. “We do this in medicine all the time”, he said “in that we plan to treat everybody but those who get sicker are the ones who need the treatment first, while we are scaling up or making any assessment of deploying a treatment”.

This task becomes more difficult in areas were the data on who needs what is scarce. Numerous collectives and institutions however are finding ways to guide their communities using localized data tracking, remote monitoring and some forms of contact tracing. They will be able to identify where and how many people require vaccination, how many vaccines are available for the taking, when more is coming, etc.

Having a clear picture is essential for any major endeavor to succeed, and a type of “communal immunity” can be achieved, to break the back of community transmission” as Rubin put it.

The issue of Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment isn’t when the vaccine is coming, but “who gets it first”. The answer given by the CDC seems to be a good one, from the perspective of the scientist, who have accepted the reality that vaccine equity is no easy task, and hard decisions must be made.

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MedTech

Professional networking amid the pandemic

Mounir Jamil

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Professional networking amid the pandemic

As the current pandemic lingers on, we see the effects come into full force. The pandemic has changed the way we learn, work and socialize.

The pandemic has had its fair share of effects on professional networking, as most of us are currently stuck at home with limited ways to make new professional connections, top CXOs and junior-mid level professionals are joining committed and specialized platforms to connect and talk with each other online. Some of these platforms include: CoffeMug, Grab Chai, and Lunchclub.

These AI-enabled platforms call themselves “AI Superconnectors” and are the latest trend in professional networking. In essence, they are matchmakers that employ an AI algorithm to set up one-one-one meetings that are based on users’ inserted objectives, interests, and preferred time slots. AI then connects the users on email through a concept known as “warm intros” and sends them through a calendar invite that is usually accompanied by a link for a video call.

Unlike LinkedIn, these professional networking platforms are gated communities, where a user can join only through invites from existing users or by applying on the platform to get registered. Once the person enters, users cannot simply send cold emails to one another to connect. The platform is smarter as you can only meet with one specific profile at a time. This eliminates the problem of spam messages flooding your inbox.

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