October 26, 2020

COVID-19 MITIGATION: Resolving the Contact Tracing Headache

Prof: Halimu Shauri. Image: (Courtesy)

Episode 14

BY PROF DR HALIMU SHAURI

(Dean School of Humanities and Social Sciences; Pwani University)

Today, we have heard on television the challenges facing the health ministry with regard to COVID-19 tracing of infected persons.

This problem needs to be resolved immediately to curtail further infections of Kenyans by those who come into contact with infected persons.

The million dollar question is how this challenge can be resolved?

I take this opportunity to reiterate my earlier messages, one to the President Uhuru Kenyatta to consider using his executive powers or evoke the powers in the public health Act on uplifting confidentiality of patients for the benefit of the public.

In my argument, I said once this is done then contact tracing becomes easy as the current methodology of tracing COVID-19 infection persons using Social Network Analysis (SNA), where the infected person reveals those whom he or she has come into contact with.

CONFIDENTIALITY
This approach, though conceals the confidentiality of the COVID-19 patients, is deficient in the shock, anxiety, stigma and discrimination that can make infected persons not remember all the people they have come into contact with.

Accordingly, to resolve the contact tracing headache I proposed in my earlier article in the Coast Newspaper to reverse this process in what I called, Reverse Social Network Analysis (RSNA).

This new and innovative approach works on the premise of the uplifting of the patient confidentiality clause.

Once lifted, then it works by disclosure of the COVID-19 Patient by the national coordinating centre. Once the infected person is revealed to the public, then all those who came into contact with the patient will know they are at risk of contracting COVID-19 infection.

They can then make choices, to self-quarantine or isolate themselves or inform the county or national agency for isolation.

While RSNA is more refined than SNA that is currently being used for contact tracing, with its attendant headaches to the implementing agencies, it assumes high level of responsibility on the part of the citizens.

IDENTITY DISCLOSURE
That is once an infected case is announced and person’s identity disclosed, those who came into contact with him or her should immediately self-quarantine or surrender themselves to authorities.

Because of humanity deficiencies, some people may be in denial and may delay or refuse to present themselves.

This category of people can also be included by making it mandatory to self-declare if you came into contact with an announced COVID-19 patient or face the law. Maybe have in place very harsh penalty for defaulters.

Finally, Albert Einstein once said, we cannot do things the same way and expect different results that must be insanity.

COVID-19 Virus, Image (Courtesy)

We can’t be tracing COVID-19 infected persons using the same approach that is giving the agencies headaches since March 2020, when the first case which has now recovered successfully was confirmed, and expect no headaches!

I know it’s difficult to accept change but COVID-19 requires dynamism of thought and action, guided by innovative approaches.

This is a new pandemic and hence trying approaches that have promise to work should be our priority. 

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