Contact tracing tool supports supplies during pandemic

[07/09/2022] Aggelos Kiayias contributed to Roslin Institute-led project with collaborators in Uganda to create a digital, open-source system that targets the haulage sector as a key source of Covid-19 infection spread.

Photo of Aggelos Kiayias wearing a dark coat and grey scarf.
Professor Aggelos Kiayias, Blockchain Technology Laboratory, School of Informatics

A digital contact tracing tool has been developed to help counteract supply chain delays linked to Covid-19 in East Africa. 

A multidisciplinary team led by the Roslin Institute with colleagues in Uganda consulted with key stakeholders to devise the open-source tool tailored to haulage use in developing countries. 

A pilot study of the new digital contact tracing (DCT) protocol is to test its utility among truck drivers. 

The team’s intervention follows severe delays at Uganda’s ports following the introduction of mandatory Covid tests for drivers, after a majority of cases at the peak of the country’s first Covid-19 wave were linked to the sector. 

Although new testing requirements have been implemented to reduce these delays, the situation highlighted the need to develop swift and more effective methods. 

Efficient tracing tool

The newly devised protocol uses mobile phone technology to integrate data on the road network infrastructure, time-stamped geopositioning, and Covid-19 test result data for drivers, to increase the speed and accuracy of public health contact tracing in the region. 

The study will allow the research team to develop informative models that map the risk of Covid-19 disease and transmission, and to estimate the contribution of haulage to Covid-19 epidemiology in Uganda. 

It will also collect feedback from truck drivers and other key participants, to review potential benefits and limitations of DCT technology.  

This is the first study that fully documents the development of a DCT tool in consultation with stakeholders on the African continent. 

Although the tool was developed specifically in response to the threat from the Covid-19 pandemic, this study will also inform the safe deployment of DCT technologies needed for combating future pandemics in low-income countries. 

Digital contact tracing can be an effective way of supporting public health and societies, at a time when supply chains are critically important. Using available digital data, we can operate an anonymised method to help manage the spread of Covid-19 infections via the haulage sector.

Dr Adrian Muwonge, Roslin Institute

Managing a highly contagious disease like Covid-19 can be very challenging for public health services and digital contact tracing can be an invaluable tool in the battle against the spread of the virus. Performing tracing correctly however requires access to sensitive personal data and hence any such system should be designed with the outmost care from a privacy and cyber security perspective. I am very excited to contribute to these system aspects in this high impact project for the area of East Africa and hosting the lead researcher Dr Adrian Muwonge at the Blockchain Technology Laboratory at the School of Informatics.

Professor Aggelos Kiayias, Blockchain Technology Laboratory, School of Informatics

The research funded by the Medical Research Council, is published in BMJ Open. 

The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.

Related links 

Link to Blockchain Technology Lab website

Link to full paper (PDF)