COVID-19: digital contact tracing technologies and ethical challenges

Jayakrishnan Thayyil, Vidya Kuniyil, Jeeja Mathummal Cherumanalil


Digital contact tracing technologies (DCTT) are used in public health surveillance to support rapid reporting, data management and analysis with the intention to improve the efficacy of the health system. One form DCTT that has been receiving attention in many countries facing COVID-19 epidemics is proximity tracking. Globally 47 contact tracing apps are available and for maximally effective for contact identification it should be adopted by 60-75% of a country’s population. But no country could achieve this in near future. Even with no proven efficacy for controlling the present pandemic and it has been deployed in several countries at unprecedented swiftness and in an unregulated environment. From a public health perspective, the essentiality of DCTT can be approved only if it is proved to be necessary, proportionate and sufficiently effective. Any public health measure is ethically correct, if it provides sufficient public health benefit to justify the burdens associated with it. In this context global health experts like WHO, Johns Hopikins university and Oxford university released recommendations on ethics and governance on the use of DCTT. Based on this principle a public health ethical review was done using available literature. Currently, there are no established methods for assessing the effectiveness of digital proximity tracking. More research to evaluate their effectiveness is needed. Governments, developers must ensure that COVID-19 contact- tracing apps satisfactorily address the ethical questions and must ensure the necessary but least intrusive measures for disease surveillance.


COVID-19, Contact tracing, Digital contact tracing technologies, Ethical issues, Public health

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