Infectious Disease Outbreaks: Health Authorities Should Not Rely Heavily On Digital Contact Tracing, Says A New Study

The results of the review suggest the need for caution by health authorities relying heavily on digital contact tracing systems.

According to a new study published in the Cochrane Library, digital contact tracing is effective in reducing the number of new covid cases, but manual contact tracing is still is much more effective in preventing infectious disease outbreaks.

The study done by the researchers at the University of Otago have done systematic review of the functions of digital technologies, how they identify contacts of an identified positive case of an infectious disease. They also studied whether such technologies can isolate infected persons from the non-infected ones to prevent further transmission.

The researchers summarised the findings of six studies from outbreaks of different infectious diseases in Sierra Leone, Botswana and the US and six studies that simulated the spread of diseases in an epidemic with mathematical models. After reviewing these studies they found that health authorities should not depend too much on digital contact tracing systems.

“Digital technologies, combined with other public health interventions, may help to prevent the spread of infectious diseases but the technology is largely unproven in real-world, outbreak settings,” Dr Anglemyer says.

According to the study, digital contact tracing solutions are effective if they are used together with other public health measures such as self-isolation.

However, such solutions are effective even if they are used in isolation as they can produce more reliable counts of contacts.

The team of researchers from the US, Australia, New Zealand, the UK agree that digital solutions have important roles to play as far as contact tracing is concerned.

They also suggest governments across the world to use such solutions to improve contact tracing methods. But, such solution can’t completely replace manual tracing to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

They recommend governments consider issues of privacy and equity when choosing digital contact tracing systems. “If governments implement digital contact tracing technologies, they should ensure that at-risk populations are not disadvantaged and they need to take privacy concerns into account.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting ethnic minorities, the elderly and people living in high deprivation. These health inequities could be magnified with the introduction of digital solutions that do not consider these at-risk populations, who are likely to have poor access to smartphones with full connectivity.”

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