taking on the next normal with technology
  • 16 September 2020
  • News

How things have changed since the last epidemic

Dr John Shephard, Chief Medical Officer, goPassport

This is the 4th epidemic of my career – but this is the first where there is potential to use digital technology to enhance the traditional methods of public health controls to rapidly and efficiently minimise spread.

When we were planning the ANZ component of the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014, we knew we were facing a huge task. As Dr John Gerard, from the Gold Coast University Hospital and one of our first doctors on the ground, described it: “we were going into the epicentre of the worst epidemic of the most fatal infectious disease known to man”.  

In our Ebola treatment centres, where infection control precautions were paramount, our protocols and risk management were largely manual. With rudimentary health-care buildings and infrastructure rapidly deployed in response to the merging disaster, clipboards, whiteboards and butcher’s paper held the vital checklists, safety measures, training tools and assurance data that were central to every aspect of our operations, including maintaining the health of our patients and our brave health staff. 

Similarly, other agencies, who were responsible for test tracking, contact tracing and community mobilisation were utilising predominantly manual means to complete their work. This was inefficient and reactive, rather than precise and pro-active.

What has changed?

Fast forward to 2020 and some things haven’t changed: wearing personal protective equipment for long periods is draining and arduous. 

Taking on the next normal with technology
Dr John Parker of Aspen Medical with local Liberian health workers. Photos: Aspen Medical

Other things have: although we’re still using the ancient rudimentary art of quarantine for Covid-19, it’s not our only option. We now have geo-fencing and bio-technology that can effectively quarantine someone for us without having to supervise them in a hotel.

Communication challenges abound in Africa in getting information and messages to people in communities where mistrust is common and local tribal agendas are in play. In 2020, this task would be easier because travellers on the ground could have the goPassport App. The App can be used to push out fresh, trusted hotspot information as it comes to light. Incoming visitors can be screened prior to their arrival and authorities have visibility of where they are and where they’ve been. This gives authorities a very strong idea of whether they’ve been exposed to the virus on their journey.

The seed of innovation: taking on the new normal with technology

In February 2020, I received a call from Matt Mckinley when he was frustrated at the cancellation of the 2020 ITB conference in Berlin. He was concerned about the future of the travel industry, the lifeblood of his and many of his friends’ and colleagues’ careers and businesses. We decided that between us and a few others, we were in a position to develop a solution. Existing technology that we know well and use widely could be assembled to support travellers in this next normal.

Awareness is an issue when travelling. Not of COVID-19, it’s hard to look at any screen at the moment and not be inundated. Awareness and consistent observance of the necessary precautions to take on any given itinerary can be much harder to support. When travelling into a new country or jurisdiction, a different set of rules and regulations will apply. The traveller needs to be able to easily discover what they are, and when and how to comply with them.

In our modern, mobile and digital world, we have the tools to guide and monitor the traveller’s compliance with these rules, and we are able to advise them of the steps they need to take on their journey to reduce their risk. goPassport brings this all together in a powerful solution.

Getting the goPassport message out

Australia is in a unique position to lead the world in coming out of this pandemic. Work is underway with the Australian Tourism Export Council and the Tourism Restart Taskforce to bring goPassport to the attention of the Australian Government and other industry bodies. We are also working with educational institutions to plan a pilot for overseas students to recommence their studies in Australia.

At goPassport, we are looking to partner with other relevant industry bodies to develop similar pilots, for example farm workers and fruit pickers for the summer season in Australia. The reverse is also possible. Thousands of people are currently seeking safe passage home while stranded in Australia.

Can you help spread the word?

If you’re affected by border closures or travel shutdowns and you’d like further information or collateral to share with your industry bodies or associates, please do get in touch, we’d love to help.

Dr John Shephard

About the author

Dr John Shepard is the Medical Director of goPassport. John has 30-years of medical expertise in communicable diseases and international public health. Has held senior executive roles in public and private sector organisations and advised numerous Commonwealth departments. John was responsible for clinical operations in Australia’s Ebola response in West Africa and led the first nationwide GP telehealth helpline.

About goPassport

goPassport’s founding team encompasses expertise across health, travel, tourism, border security, international education and real-time analytics. We’ve created an end-to-end, digital solution to guide travellers, manage risk and monitor compliance to health and immigration policy.