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Indian Entrepreneur Cracks Way To Trace COVID-19 Hotspots in Rural India

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New Delhi (Sputnik): With 1.3 billion people, contact tracing in India during COVID-19 can be an enormous task. It’s even more daunting in rural areas where there is a lesser penetration of smartphones and internet.

With contact tracing emerging as one of the indispensable means to prevent the country from slipping into the community transmission stage of this highly contagious infection, an Indian entrepreneur has come up with a way of contact tracing in rural India, where almost 70 percent of the country’s population lives.

Ankit Chaudhari, CEO and founder of Aiisma, a data marketplace that has launched an app for coronavirus contact tracing, told Sputnik that it is the only app to utilize the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSB) feature for COVID-19 contact tracing in rural areas.

“It’s for non-smart phone users who have previous version of phone which were not 3G, 4G or 5G connected. These phones operated majorly on USSB application. There is no app involved and interaction happens via the mobile network,” Ankit mentioned.

He added that this can be the primary way of tracking those in rural areas where the penetration of smart phones is not that high.

Explaining how it would work, Ankit said that the infrastructure in the back-end of the app and mobile remains the same. What changes is the individual's mode of connecting to the marketplace. Instead of having an app installed in their smartphone, they are selecting one option propagated to them by their service providers.

Even basic handsets share the location information via cell towers with the telecom service provider. But this app would use the USSD feature when the person gives consent for this information to be shared with the Aiisma ecosystem, which the app founder said would also ensure their anonymity and privacy.

The application is currently in the process of requesting more support from government and telecom service providers in order to make it accessible to the general population.

“An eco-system like ours cannot thrive and grow until we can be in touch with the government of India to allow us access to existing patient information and geo-locations, even in anonymous format. Only then we can share precise information with our users and know if they might can have come in contact with positive carrier,” Ankit said.

Market research agency Kantar IMRB states that there are nearly 251 million internet users in rural India. The penetration of the internet in rural areas has increased to 25 percent in 2018 from 9 percent in 2015.

The government is making efforts to contain spread of the infection by undertaking contact tracing and spreading awareness in rural areas about the COVID-19 infection.

The government of India has also launched the 'Aarogya Setu' app for smart phone users. The application, it claims, is capable of identifying if the user has come in contact with a positive carrier or a suspect. The app has seen more than 50 million downloads, but that remains a small proportion of the population.

India has 11,201 active cases of coronavirus and has reported 437 deaths due to the viral infection. The country has been under lockdown since 24 March. The lockdown was supposed to be lifted on 15 April but was extended to 3 May.

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