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International Health

July 30, 2020

Johns Hopkins Researchers Publish Assessment of Digital Solutions for COVID-19 Response in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

The report will help policymakers evaluate digital contract tracing and case management platforms

As governments plan for large-scale COVID-19 contact tracing programs, digital tools can introduce significant efficiencies. With a rapid increase in the number of complex digital technologies, however, decisions about where to invest are often not clear cut. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative (JHU-GmI) published a new assessment of digital platforms that have already been used, or could be rapidly reconfigured, to address COVID-19-related case management and contact tracing needs in several low- and middle-income countries. 

The report was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the authors worked in close collaboration with the developers of the digital platforms assessed.

“Our goal was to create a resource for decision-makers in governments and healthcare systems who need to rapidly develop and implement plans to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in their countries,” says lead author Smisha Agarwal, PhD, MPH, MBA, an assistant professor in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The report should also benefit donor agencies who are engaged in supporting these efforts.”

The authors identify a list of minimum capabilities that a platform must have to be configured rapidly for COVID-19 case management and contact tracing. They selected platforms to assess based on existing deployment, flexibility, and adaptability for COVID-19 use; the ability to support multiple languages; and, stakeholder interest in how these applications can be leveraged in response to COVID-19.

“We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” says Agarwal. “The report highlights the value of choosing a platform based on the existing experience of the country in specific platforms and capabilities within the country to adapt, deploy, and maintain a specific platform.” 

The platforms assessed have extensive user-bases and have been deployed successfully all over the world. They are: Commcare, Community Health Toolkit, DHIS2 Tracker, Go.Data, ODK, OpenSRP, RapidPro, SORMAS, and WelTel.

According to the authors, DHIS2 Tracker and CommCare stand out in the context of patient triage, referral for testing, and contact listing and follow-up. Both platforms have turn-key ready applications for COVID-19 and a history of proven success with large-scale deployments. There are many professionals around the globe with experience adapting and deploying DHIS2 Tracker, which allows for more flexibility and local ownership. With CommCare, adaptation and deployment support can be provided at a cost by the organization that developed and manages the platform. 

Given its ease of adaptation and deployment, the authors recommend RapidPro if government health officials are interested in remote communication with healthcare workers or suspect cases regarding COVID-19 via a messaging platform. However, if any of the nine platforms already have a footprint in a given country, with local expertise for implementation, they can be considered for COVID-19 response. 

Digital Solutions for COVID-19 Response: An assessment of digital tools for rapid scale-up for case management and contact tracing was written by Smisha Agarwal, Madhu Jalan, Shivani Pandya, Rennie Ferguson, Donia Mustafa, Charles Ng, and Alain Labrique.