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[B-SIDE Podcast] Flying blind: Making the case for a surveillance and monitoring system

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Without a sentinel surveillance system, tech entrepreneurs Paul Rivera and Danny Castonguay believe that the country is flying blind when it comes to the coronavirus outbreak. “We’re just guessing. And guessing is a dangerous game when people’s lives are at stake,” said Mr. Castonguay.

Those who are tasked with protecting us need reliable numbers and a way to process those numbers in order to identify trends and get ahead of the virus. According to the World Health Organization, a sentinel surveillance system is used when high-quality data are needed about a particular disease. It can be used to monitor and detect when and where an outbreak starts, and, in the context of COVID-19, provide information that can be used as the basis for targeted lockdowns.

Mr. Rivera and Mr. Castonguay are behind COVID Sentinel AI, a platform that can help policymakers and business leaders make informed decisions using self-reported data.

In 2012, Mr. Rivera and Mr. Castonguay co-founded of Kalibrr, an IT company providing hiring solutions in Southeast Asia. In 2013, Mr. Castonguay left Kalibrr to pursue other projects, among them bld.ai, which teaches people how to build human-centered AI products.

The two men teamed up once more for COVID Sentinel AI, which has doctors from the University of Montreal and the University of Chicago providing medical expertise.

In this episode, the founders of COVID Sentinel AI explain the advantages of using a surveillance and monitoring system to BusinessWorld reporter Gillian M. Cortez.

TAKEAWAYS

To prevent another national lockdown, we must have a system that uses all of the data being captured. 

Compared to e-mail and spreadsheets (the tools that many companies are relying on to monitor the health of their employees), COVID Sentinel AI is more secure and robust. “It’s the easiest and most critical way to get population data on how our employees are doing, how they are feeling, and whether or not we need to isolate individual populations in individual groups and individual teams that may be showing symptoms of COVID,” said Mr. Rivera, who added that the sentinel platform gives companies the means to process data they are already collecting (think of temperature checks — where does that information go and how is it aggregated?).

“Businesses are essentially flying blind” without a sentinel system.

Without reliable mass testing and/or a vaccine, the founders of COVID Sentinel AI believe that businesses are “flying blind.” They say that a sentinel system is critical so that cities such as Metro Manila don’t revert to another enhanced community quarantine. If users get into the mode of self-reporting and entering their data into the platform, policymakers and business leaders can then make informed decisions at a more granular level.

Developers should consider user experience: ease of use improves compliance.

Available in Tagalog, with several other dialects on the way, COVID Sentinel AI is mobile-friendly and can be accessed on any device; it also provides an easy way for system administrators to follow up. Having the system available in local languages was important for the founders, as they wanted to develop a system that anyone could understand and use. “If you can access Facebook, if you can access Messenger, you can access COVID Sentinel,” Mr. Castonguay said.

Recorded remotely on April 28. Produced by Nina M. Diaz, Paolo L. Lopez, and Sam L. Marcelo

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