Blockchain vs. COVID-19

Here's how companies around the world are using blockchain to help in the fight against Covid-19, including IBM's announcement today of a new blockchain network to help healthcare organizations and government entities locate much-needed medical supplies.

IBM today launched a blockchain network designed to help government agencies and healthcare organizations identify new, non-traditional suppliers that address the shortage of equipment, devices, and supplies needed for the COVID-19 relief effort. Called Rapid Supplier Connect, the network is designed to help buyers and suppliers find each other quickly, and to accelerate verification and onboarding processes to gain "near-real-time insights" into inventories of essential equipment.

Available at no cost until August 31, 2020 to qualified buyers and suppliers in the United States and Canada, Rapid Supplier Connect combines a scalable blockchain for business network, proven supply chain solutions, and a network of dedicated industry and technical experts, the company said.

IBM is just one of a surprising number of enterprises and academic organizations around the world developing blockchain-based tools and services to fight the pandemic. In fact, the pandemic seems to be spurring blockchain adoption. Here are a few examples:

Tracking Cases Globally
Pennsylvania-based Villanova University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is currently developing a platform utilizing blockchain, AI, and IoT to help medical facilities track coronavirus cases globally.

"As individuals travel across borders, medical facilities need immutable, trustworthy medical data quickly and electronically," explained Hasshi Sudler, adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering at Villanova's College of Engineering, in a blog post. "A critical requirement to contain coronavirus is to track any individual having tested positive and to track the health of anyone who has come in contact with that individual, even if those encounters were across borders. The blockchain can be a common source of data that allows medical facilities to share immutable information internationally."

The Villanova system uses a private blockchain shared among medical facilities around the world to publish coronavirus test results among doctors on a trusted, immutable ledger. IoT and AI are used to survey public spaces where high-risk gatherings can take place and trigger alerts over the blockchain. These alerts can assist healthcare providers in making strategic, life-saving decisions, Sudler said, on how to allocate medical staff and equipment already in short supply.

Keeping Your Distance at the Pharmacy
Berlin-based blockchain startup Spherity launched a working protype last month of an electronic prescription system designed to help people get their medications while maintaining proper social distancing. Called E-Rezept, the system was the result of the company's participation in a hackathon sponsored by the German government that drew more than 40,000 international participants.

'Our project was inspired by my mother who [doesn't] want to go to an overcrowded doctor's office just to renew a pharmaceutical prescription', said Carsten Stöcker, CEO of Spherity, in a blog post.

The E-Rezept prototype was built using Self Sovereign Identity (SSI), an encryption regime designed to balance privacy and security, and to provide the kind of assurance that could be foundational to a broad range of new digital processes and services. The lightweight app, which runs in the AWS cloud, was designed to be easily integrated with existing health care infrastructures for doctors, pharmacies, and online distributors. Patients access it via a secure iOS mobile interface. Identifiers of the doctors are anchored on the Ethereum blockchain.

Certified Cleared
Birmingham City University is developing what the school is describing as the world's first digital safety certificate aimed at protecting suppliers and consumers from risks associated with COVID-19. Based on blockchain technology, the Coronavirus Clearance Certificate (CCC) was designed to make it possible for companies to ensure that risks related to the virus are managed within their supply chain.

"For supply chains, coronavirus represents a crisis of trust," said Nassim Belbaly, director of Birmingham City Business School, in a statement, "because we cannot any longer automatically trust goods or suppliers. However, as CCC is independently verified, it can be issued to organizations, products, and even people that take appropriate steps to manage risks from coronavirus…"

The CCC will be tested first in the UK Midlands, a region of the country that has been heavily affected by COVID-19. The certificates will be issued by The Transnational Transparent Procurement (TTP) Foundation.

"Consumers will demand in future that suppliers do everything in their power to avoid risk from Covid-19," said Olinga Taeed, Visiting Professor of Blockchain at Birmingham City University. "People want to use goods and services safe in the knowledge that there is no risk to themselves or others. For example, if you buy a hand sanitizer you want to be sure it can do what it says on the label. The Coronavirus Clearance Certificate is a game-changer, because it uses reliable blockchain technology to transparently track the life cycle of products, thereby building assurance."

Quarantine Gamified
Israeli blockchain startup Orbs has come up with a gaming app designed to encourage people to self-quarantine. The app, called "Stay at Home Challenge," tracks users' time in quarantine and notifies them when they leave a designated home area. The app gamifies the self-quarantine concept, allowing users to share their progression with friends and family members while encouraging to everyone to stay home.

"We will continue to think of ways we can help out in Israel and globally to get us all through these challenging times," the company said in a statement. "We discuss ideas on a regular basis in company meetings and chats."

Although the app is able to keep track of users' movements, Orbs claims it does not collect private user data; they are not required to provide their names, email addresses, or other personal details while using the app.

The game is available for Android users on Google Play. A version of iOS is in the works, the company said.

Free Storage
Atlanta-based Storj Labs is a blockchain-based cloud network provider that recently announced a new program for any organization working to fight the global pandemic with an offer of 1 TB of free cloud storage and bandwidth per month on the company's Tardigrade decentralized cloud storage platform for a year.

"We as a company are also committed to providing 5 PB of data and storage toward COVID-19 research," the company said in a statement, "and we're open to considering requests beyond the 1TB offer." More information on the Storj Labs program is available here.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at