High Tech Alliance Plans to Bring Rapid COVID-19 Tests, Digital ID to MENA Women
Partnership between Kountable and ProofMarket is hoping to reach one billion women worldwide, and provide them with health identification information protection
Kountable and ProofMarket have partnered to deliver COVID-19 tests to women in East Africa, using technology that also creates a digital health identification with information over which women have autonomy. They hope to grow their program to reach one billion women, with plans to expand next to the Middle East and further throughout Africa.
Women have been disproportionally impacted by the coronavirus pandemic globally. In the Middle East, women have had less access to health care services than men.
“With this pandemic, women have harder access to medical care or even getting the vaccine [because] they are second-class citizens when it comes to getting anything,” Suad Abu-Dayyeh, an Amman-based Middle East/North Africa consultant for Equality Now, told The Media Line.
“Even in ordinary times, women have problems accessing medical care due to living in rural areas or living in places where there is no clinic in their community and there’s no transportation,” she said. “Pregnant women, for example, who don’t live near urban centers have less access to medical care now with the pandemic.”
Chris Hale, CEO of Kountable, a global trade and technology platform, says that a “significant” portion of his company has been focused on rapid development tests since 2015. By improving and, in many cases, running the global supply chain in Kenya and Tanzania to combat diseases like HIV and malaria, Kountable has garnered the experience and the technology to provide COVID-19 tests as well.
Hale says the company’s partnership with ProofMarket, which works to provide digital identity and digital trust technology, helps them to provide at the same time a digital identity to women, who are more likely to lack a digital ID and in some cases any ID at all.
“The reason we are focusing on women is that identity in a formal sense is often a major impediment to them plugging in to the formal sector. That formal sector could be around health care specifically and owning their own health care records; it could be around finance and access to finances and financial inclusion; or it could be around insurance and care for their families,” he told The Media Line.
Abu-Dayyeh says the region is doing well in terms of women having physical identification, citing how some rural localities within Saudi Arabia are starting to provide women with such IDs after long-term political pressure. But she says that women in very rural villages, like in Egypt, still lack access.
When it comes to the MENA region, women are more likely to have non-updatable physical proof of identity.
“In the United States, if a teenager isn’t eager to get their driver’s license on their 16 ½-or-whatever-the-right-age-is birthday, people think it is strange,” Hale said. “In lots of economies, people never get a driver’s license ever and their only formal identity is when they engage with the health care sector using things that are analog, like a birth certificate.”
Digital identity is a whole different ballgame, which Hale says is usually provided by a third party like a government or a bank, and can be composed of information from different sectors.
“My identity here in the United States might be provided by my social security number, my driver’s license and my credit score, and those three inputs combine to create a digital persona that can be consumed by third parties,” he said. “Many countries and many people as a result don’t have that kind of infrastructure to deliver their identity to global markets.”
Hale says that this is particularly complicated in the international health arena, as global supply chains become more interconnected and organizations that fund health projects want evidence that their money is being used on scientifically sound treatments.
“The global health sector is wanting to prove patient outcomes. … This is a byproduct of all of the protocols related to COVID but it’s been a desire of the health sector for a long time,” he said, noting that a lack of this identity makes it difficult for medical professionals to ensure follow-up care is received.
Even in ordinary times, women have problems accessing medical care due to living in rural areas or living in places where there is no clinic in their community and there’s no transportation
When it comes to the coronavirus, a prime example of the need for follow-up care comes with the vaccine.
“Ensuring patients get two doses of the COVID vaccine is a challenge in developed markets, which has a lot more of this established infrastructure than lesser-developed markets do but has still proved a logistical quagmire to wade through, so you can imagine how, when identity is not easily established and broadly available, complicated things like adherence are established,” Hale said.
In response, ProofMarket and the MIT pandemic response spinoff Pathcheck, a volunteer-led, nonprofit organization, is announcing Tuesday a way to help vulnerable populations to register and set up appointments for the coronavirus vaccine and to obtain proof afterwards that a person received the vaccine.
“Much like the digital identity we are describing, we’re distributing this in the form of the QR coupon … all of this can happen on a piece of paper with a QR code or in a mobile app,” said Tony Rose, founder and CEO of ProofMarket, which delivers identity that is self-sovereign – or owned by the individual, who determines who gets access to specific information – to everyone in the world and bridges the digital divide in offering health equity solutions.
The form used by Kountable and ProofMarket utilizes blockchain to establish this virtual identity, which works both with and without internet access in a manner that allows the individual to have complete authority over his or her health information. And while this identity created can be done with the help of local authorities, such assistance is not obligatory.
“With the decentralized identity, the information is only under control of the person, so it gives them a way to develop a digital reputation over time or a record of health care over time that enables care to be provided or health history to be recorded and kept and then shared as needed, online and digital,” Rose said.
The test has its own identifying numbers and allows an electronic way for a person to match a test to their result, according to Hale.
Rose says that a person is identified through a DID, the decentralized identifier, which consists of both a public and private key – essentially a very long string of numbers. “The identity is built around a private key, which a person must confirm in order to share personal information,” he said.
In this context, women also are given access to their own health data in a way that isn’t readily available even in the US today, which Hale hopes to expand as part of the one billion women the project hopes to reach.
HIPAA, the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed under US President Bill Clinton, provides rules by which doctors and health insurers must treat someone’s personal data. Ultimately, this data lies with them, not the individual.
Individual control of data around health care and health is a rapidly evolving field that this solution is a part of
Under the Kountable and ProofMarket partnership, women also would have control over what health information they share.
“So, let’s say you need to prove that you’ve been vaccinated with the coronavirus vaccine to get on a flight, all you’d want to share with the verifier of that credential is proof of vaccination; you don’t want to share anything else,” Hale said. “Believe it or not, right now the framework to do those kinds of things is very new and very immature. And so that individual control of data around health care and health is a rapidly evolving field that this solution is a part of.”
“You own who gets to see it and when,” he added.
Even in a non-health-related setting, Americans do not own their digital identification information, for example.
“Right now, with credit scores, I don’t have a choice whether one gets to see my credit score or not. Many entities can access them at any time with or without my permission … generally speaking, the data is not mine,” Hale said. “And that’s something people are increasingly fed up with.”