A pioneering tool for gathering health data now being used in Kenya could herald a revolution in the way diseases are tracked and defeated around the world. It uses mobile phones to better connect patients with medical and health personnel, and allows data to be gathered in real-time and used to track health and improve the delivery of services, especially to remote and under-serviced areas.
In the past couple of years, Kenya has become a hotbed of mobile phone and information technology innovation. The now-famous Ushahidi crisis-mapping platform (www.ushahidi.com) is just one example. Social enterprise Data Dyne (www.datadyne.org) – with offices in Washington DC and Nairobi, Kenya – is offering its EpiSurveyor application (www.episurveyor.org) free to all to aid health data collection. It bills itself as “the first cloud-computing application for international development and global health … Think of it as like Gmail, but for data collection!”
EpiSurveyor claims to have more than 2,600 users around the world and is currently being upgraded to a second version.
“With the touch of a button I can see what’s going on across the country in real time,” Kenyan civil servant Yusuf Ibrahim told Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. “It is amazing.”
Ibrahim works in Nairobi as the Kenyan Ministry of Health liaison to Data Dyne.
He uses maps and charts on mobile phones to track deadly disease outbreaks and vulnerable pregnancies.
The EpiSurveyor application works simply: A user logs into the website and builds and creates the sort of form they want. They then download it to a phone and start collecting data straight away.
Ibrahim gathers this data from mobile phones used by health care workers across the country.
“It used to take days, weeks or even a couple of months to find out about an outbreak of polio on the other side of the country,” he said. “Now we know almost instantly. The speed with which we can now collect information has catapulted healthcare and prevention to another level. It has completely changed healthcare and saved countless lives.”
He proudly points out Kenya’s mobile phone data collection system is “probably better than what they’ve got in the West.”
“Although we are a third world country, I’m pretty sure we’ve done this before
Western countries. While they are still collecting information in hard copy on clipboards, we are getting it instantly.”
Packed with data processing power, mobile phones are capable of an immense range of tasks and applications. Some see phones as key to a revolution in how healthcare is provided: the mobile phone becomes one-part clinic, another part mobile hospital dispensing advice and transmitting vital information back to healthcare professionals and scientists in hospitals and labs.
Despite dramatic improvements to the quality of hospitals in Africa and the number of qualified doctors, the continent’s healthcare services are still a patchwork, with rural and slum dwellers poorly served and the stresses of treating patients with contagious diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria pushing resources to the limit.
The United Nations has a number of initiatives partnering with mobile phone manufacturers, networks and software developers as part of a global campaign to reduce HIV/AIDS, malaria and deaths in childbirth.
EpiSurveyor is being used by more than 15 countries’ ministries of health and is the adopted standard for the World Health Organization (www.who.int) (WHO) for electronic health data collection.
It began as a partnership with the United Nations Foundation, The Vodafone Group Foundation, WHO and the ministries of health of Kenya and Zambia in 2006 to pilot test the software for EpiSurveyor.
At the United Nations Foundation (www.unfoundation.org), chief executive Kathy Calvin equates the impact of mobile phones on global healthcare to the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin.
“Instead of building clinics and roads to remote towns and villages so that people can access healthcare, we are bringing healthcare directly to the people via mobile phones. You get a lot more healthcare for your money,” Calvin told the Telegraph.
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
If you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.
MI6 chief Richard Moore to BBC News (30 November 2021).
Data. The United Nations (UN) has always gathered data and published it. But since the advent of the digital revolution, data collection has taken on new forms. It is now gathered 24/7 and sits in databases – or on somebody’s smartphone. It flows in, and flows out. Some call it a ‘data deluge’. Since 2000, despite various initiatives (irritating ‘cookies’ warnings before you can interact with a web page, or the more legalistic General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy in the European Union and the European Economic Area) data has become incontinent: it leaks out everywhere.
An orgy of cross-border data collection and harvesting has only increased in its intensity in the past 20 years. And the UN and other international organisations have played their part.
But what most of us do not want to think about is this: that data is power and when it is parsed and sifted by algorithms and AI (artificial intelligence), it allows the entity doing this to engage in event-shaping. How much of our lives is being shaped by digital ‘voodoo dolls’ in a cyber centre somewhere?
And, as the head of the UK’s MI6 intelligence service says, “over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.” In short, you’ve been hacked.
“Cyber-security experts have unveiled one of the biggest computer hacking campaigns to date, releasing a list of 72 organisations whose networks were attacked over a five-year period. Victims include the UN and several governments.
REUTERS – Security experts have discovered the biggest series of cyber attacks to date, involving the infiltration of the networks of 72 organizations including the United Nations, governments and companies around the world. …
In the case of the United Nations, the hackers broke into the computer system of its secretariat in Geneva in 2008, hid there for nearly two years, and quietly combed through reams of secret data, according to McAfee.”
“If there are no consequences for the [UN] agencies for failures like these … there will be more breaches.”
“About this investigation: While researching cybersecurity last November, we came across a confidential report about the UN. Networks and databases had been severely compromised – and almost no one we spoke to had heard about it. This article about that attack adds to The New Humanitarian’s previous coverage on humanitarian data. We look at how the UN got hacked and how it handled this breach, raising questions about the UN’s responsibilities in data protection and its diplomatic privileges.“
“In summer 2019, hackers broke into over 40 (and possibly more) UN servers in offices in Geneva and Vienna and downloaded “sensitive data that could have far-reaching repercussions for staff, individuals, and organizations communicating with and doing business with the UN,” The New Humanitarian reported on Wednesday.”
“Oz Alashe, CEO of CybSafe, says that the unintentional disclosure of this cyber attack on such an important institution last year is concerning.
“This delay, and the fact that the UN did not report this attack to any governing authority – or even their own staff – may have put victims at unnecessary risk. Not only were staff passwords stolen, system controls and security firewalls were compromised too which could have led to the critical confidential reports falling into criminal hands,” he pointed out.
This attack could end up undermining trust in the UN – trust that they are able to keep sensitive information safe and trust that they will notify affected individuals when they fail.”
“I am very honoured to join you today in this inauguration ceremony of the Regional Hub for Big Data in China, in support of the United Nations Global Platform. The inauguration of this Regional Hub is most important, and timely.
The demand for data, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is greater than ever. Governments are in need of detailed data on the spread of the virus and its impacts on society. Under these challenging circumstances, statistical institutes have had to respond urgently to the demand for data, and to present innovative solutions. Consequently, in these times of need, the statistical community is now able to effectively use Big Data and advanced technologies.
For example, census data – together with detailed geospatial information – can help identify the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. And, real-time data on the position and movement of ships, for example, can estimate the volume of cargo being transported, and thus help produce estimates on the state of the economy. These real-time shipping data are available as a global data set on the United Nations Global Platform, and can be accessed by the whole statistical community.”
“Around 2013, U.S. intelligence began noticing an alarming pattern: Undercover CIA personnel, flying into countries in Africa and Europe for sensitive work, were being rapidly and successfully identified by Chinese intelligence, according to three former U.S. officials. The surveillance by Chinese operatives began in some cases as soon as the CIA officers had cleared passport control. Sometimes, the surveillance was so overt that U.S. intelligence officials speculated that the Chinese wanted the U.S. side to know they had identified the CIA operatives, disrupting their missions; other times, however, it was much more subtle and only detected through U.S. spy agencies’ own sophisticated technical countersurveillance capabilities.”
A United Nations research institute is being set up in China that will amass and analyze huge amounts of data from around the world on sustainable development goals. Chinese researchers are expressing the need for data in order to analyze human behavior.
“China’s influence is undoubtedly growing in the United Nations, with four of the 15 specialized agencies of the intergovernmental organization being led by Chinese nationals. Beijing seized the “absence” of the United States, accelerated by the Trump administration’s disdain for the U.N., to extend its tentacles to unexpected places.
A plan to set up the first U.N. big data research institute is underway in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. Officially, it would facilitate U.N. operations by amassing and analyzing huge amounts of data from around the world on sustainable development goals (SDGs) to tackle global issues such as starvation and climate change.
One cause for concern is that Chinese researchers are expressing the need for data in order to analyze human behavior. The United States, which is wary of any data leaks to China, is raising alarms against the plan. In an October 7, 2020, article inThe Wall Street Journal,Hudson Institute fellow Claudia Rosett warned that the plan would enable China to collect data from U.N. member states and set the standards for data collection.”
“The data privacy and security of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh has reportedly been jeopardised by the UN Refugee Agency. In an exposé published on 15 June by Human Rights Watch (HRW), UNHCR stands accused of improperly collecting the Rohingya’s biometric information and later sharing it with the Myanmar government without the Rohingya’s consent. Refugees said they had been told to register to receive aid, but the risks of sharing their biometrics had not been discussed, and the possibility this information would be shared with Myanmar was not mentioned.
The potential harm of sharing information with a regime that has a long history of manipulating registration systems to exclude and marginalise Rohingya populations is obvious. That biometrics are involved makes it worse. Unlike names or other personal information, biometrics are sticky – it’s not something you can change or escape.”
“People in Afghanistan are fearful of the Taliban accessing personal information captured and stored by aid agencies including biometric data which could be used to identify individuals. Experts have raised concern that approaches used by security firms and United Nations development agencies could prove problematic for refugees and vulnerable groups, reports the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable trust of Thomson Reuters.
The Intercept reported that equipment used by the U.S. army for biometric collection has already been seized by the Taliban. Biometric data on Afghans who assisted the U.S. were widely collected, making anybody identified vulnerable to persecution from the Taliban.
Sources told the Intercept that there was little planning for such an event, while the U.S. Army plans to continue to spend another $11 million on biometrics capture equipment including 95 more devices.
The UNHCR has been using biometrics in the region since 2002 when it tested iris recognition technology on Afghan refugees in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. Aid agencies praise biometric technology’s anti fraud and contactless capabilities.”
“Hackers breached the United Nations’ computer networks earlier this year and made off with a trove of data that could be used to target agencies within the intergovernmental organization.
The hackers’ method for gaining access to the UN network appears to be unsophisticated: They likely got in using the stolen username and password of a UN employee purchased off the dark web.”
“Organizations like the UN are a high-value target for cyber-espionage activity,” Resecurity Chief Executive Officer Gene Yoo said. “The actor conducted the intrusion with the goal of compromising large numbers of users within the UN network for further long-term intelligence gathering.”
“A spokesperson for the United Nations has confirmed that the organization was breached by hackers in early 2021, and that attacks tied to that breach on various branches of the UN are ongoing. The data breach appears to stem from an employee login that was sold on the dark web. The attackers used this entry point to move farther into the UN’s networks and conducted reconnaissance between April and August. Information gleaned from this activity appears to have been put to use in further attacks, with attempts made on at least 53 accounts.”
UN data breach creates long-term havoc for organization
“The UN has a unique need for cutting-edge cybersecurity given that it is one of the world’s prime targets for hackers, and that it fields regular attacks from advanced operators. Many of these go unrecorded, but the organization has weathered some high-profile attacks in recent years.”
At some of the world’s most sensitive spots, authorities have installed security screening devices made by a single Chinese company with deep ties to China’s military and the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party
China has barely scratched the surface of its potential to carry out a “people’s war” on global public opinion.
“China’s propaganda machine also has over 1 million journalists and reporters tasked with the mission to “tell China’s story well.” Armed with AI and bots, China’s huge internet army could hobble global social media platforms with a large-scale flooding attack to win the CCP’s public opinion war.”
“Based on the cases he investigated over a period of six years, award-winning Dutch journalist Huib Modderkolk takes the reader on a tour of the corridors and back doors of the globalised digital world. He reconstructs British-American espionage operations and reveals how the power relationships between countries enable intelligence services to share and withhold data from each other.”
“Surveillance Capitalism: A new phase in economic history in which private companies and governments track your every move with the goal of predicting and controlling your behaviour. Under surveillance capitalism you are not the customer or even the product: you are the raw material.”
warned China has the capability to “harvest data from around the world” and uses money to “get people on the hook” …
“Speaking about the threat posed by China, Mr Moore described its use of “debt traps and data traps”.
He said Beijing is “trying to use influence through its economic policies to try and sometimes, I think, get people on the hook”.
Explaining the “data trap”, he said: “If you allow another country to gain access to really critical data about your society, over time that will erode your sovereignty, you no longer have control over that data.
“That’s something which, I think, in the UK we are very alive to and we’ve taken measures to defend against.”