Review of the role of big data and digital technologies in controlling COVID-19 in Asia: Public health interest vs. privacy

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Digit Health. 2021 Mar 23;7:20552076211002953. doi: 10.1177/20552076211002953. eCollection 2021 Jan-Dec.


BACKGROUND: Asia has been at the forefront of leveraging big data and digital technologies to strengthen measures against SARS-CoV-2 spread. Understanding strengths and challenges of these new approaches is important to inform improvements and implementation. In this review, we aimed to explore how these tools were utilized in four countries in Asia to facilitate COVID-19 preventative control measures.

METHODS: We conducted a pragmatic review of English-language literature and web-based information in Pubmed, MedRxiv, national and international public health institution websites and media sources between 1st January-3rd August 2020 to identify examples of big data and digital technologies to facilitate COVID-19 preventative control measures in Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Results were summarized narratively by common technological themes, and examples of integration highlighted.

RESULTS: Digital tools implemented included real-time epidemiological dashboards, interactive maps of case location, mobile apps for tracing patients’ contacts and geofencing to monitor quarantine compliance. Examples of integration of tools included linkage of national health and immigration databases to identify high-risk individuals in Taiwan, and the use of multiple digital surveillance sources to map patients’ movements in South Korea. Challenges in balancing privacy and public good were identified.

CONCLUSIONS: Digital technologies have facilitated and strengthened traditional public health measures for prevention of SARS-CoV-2 spread in Asia. Resolving issues around privacy concerns would improve future preparedness, implementation speed and uptake of digital measures. The significant technological advances and lessons learned can be adopted or adapted by other countries to ensure public health preparedness for future waves of COVID-19 and other pandemics.

PMID:33815815 | PMC:PMC7995298 | DOI:10.1177/20552076211002953