Monday, April 22, 2024

TBConnect: Tackling Tuberculosis through Open Data and Blockchain Technology

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While COVID surpassed tuberculosis as the deadliest pathogen in 2020, the latest figures show that the danger of this ancient killer is far from over. Most experts predict that the second-deadliest pathogen is all set to reclaim its old spot—and only a monumental intervention can alter its course. 

TBConnect, a blockchain-powered application created by the Mueller Health Foundation, is the culmination of the team’s long-held belief in a unified fight against tuberculosis. By opening streamlined channels of communication between leading researchers, clinical practitioners, healthcare workers, non-profit organizations, corporations, policymakers, and the wider community, TBConnect hopes to commence the age of “Open Data” in the field of tuberculosis. 

Sitting at the intersection of emerging technologies, TBConnect will model a transparent, tamper-resistant ledger of discussions, research, and ideas where all voices can flow freely without any fears of misattribution. This will be made possible by leveraging blockchain technology and recording every activity onto the auditable fabric of the Ethereum network, in the form of non-fungible tokens (NFTs). 

In the attention economy of the 21st century, attracting eyeballs, retaining ownership of ideas, and separating signals from noise are the most significant challenges. TBConnect is all set to turn those roadblocks into relics of a bygone era—a paradigm shift that could turn the next decade into the final chapter of humanity’s age-old pathogenic enemy. 

Tuberculosis on the Rise

Between 2015 and 2020, the world witnessed a steady decline in the prevalence of new tuberculosis cases. At a global level, there was a marked 2% average drop during that period. In 2020, the U.S. alone recorded a sharp 20.2% decline in TB incidences at the turn of the decade. 

In contrast, 2021 marked a complete reversal with a staggering 9.8% rise in TB incidences in the U.S. With USAID estimating close to 11 million cases annually, an unmistakable trend has emerged: tuberculosis is on the rise. 

While many factors contribute to this unfortunate shift, perhaps the biggest is the lack of unified efforts. From researchers and practitioners to lateral organizations, policymakers, and the general public, all circles are operating in isolated siloes. Consequently, the most promising discourse, research, and ideas remain locked behind closed doors, rarely translating into a shift in ground realities. 

The repercussions of this approach are countless. For starters, the lack of open channels for dialogue leads to limited public awareness and prioritization by policymakers. Despite setting an annual funding target of $13 billion for low- and middle-income nations during the 2018 UN General Assembly meeting on tuberculosis, only half of that amount was found available in recent assessments. It should come as no surprise then that microscopic inspection of sputum remains the most popular diagnostic method—a decades-old procedure that many experts consider unreliable. 

At the same time, a lack of proper communication channels leads to underreporting. One of the most shocking examples of this dates back to 2016 when a study in The Lancet demonstrated the enormous gap between official figures and ground realities. Contrary to the officially reported 2.2 million cases for the year 2014, the study authors estimated the true prevalence between 2.2 million to 6.8 million incidences. While strides have been made since then to bolster the veracity of reports since then, underreporting is still considered a significant challenge. 

Considering the incidence rate of tuberculosis suddenly embracing an upward trajectory, it is safe to say that a major shift in approach is the need of the hour. 

Unifying Efforts through TBConnect

TBConnect is designed from the ground up to foster an open environment where ideas can flow freely between all stakeholders. This is achieved by onboarding all parties on a unified platform, including but not limited to scientists and researchers, practitioners and healthcare workers, non-profits and government bodies, lateral partners and organizations, and the wider public. 

The novel portal empowers all parties with an open platform where they can freely voice their opinions, network with a diverse group of stakeholders, and disseminate their ideas far and wide. Open dialogue can thrive in TBConnect’s digital playgrounds because each discourse is recorded onto the blockchain network, creating an auditable and indisputable trail of ownership attribution. 

All ideas begin as fragile thoughts. Neglected and unprotected, they can easily be squashed by external forces before they ever get the chance to breathe. But with proper nurturing, these seeds of thoughts can blossom into world-changing ideas. This is the leading philosophy that guides Mueller Health Foundation’s vision for TBConnect.

In essence, TBConnect is the greenhouse where humanity’s most promising ideas will receive the nurturing they need to make the biggest impact against tuberculosis. 

The Intersection of Emerging Technologies

While progress takes shape in many forms, there’s always a common denominator: technological revolutions. This fact underpins the inner workings of TBConnect, as the platform is designed to bridge legacy internet infrastructure with next-generation blockchain technology.

For starters, this revolutionary portal leverages blockchain technology to etch every document into the very fabric of the Ethereum network. This is achieved by turning all uploaded documents into non-fungible tokens. In doing so, TBConnect empowers visionaries, researchers, and great thinkers with an irrefutable ownership of their ideas. 

At the same time, there is a built-in, native feedback mechanism that establishes a meritocratic route for the rise of novel ideas. All stakeholders have the opportunity to share their feedback on every document in the form of ratings and reviews. Through these reviews and ratings, the most promising ideas can naturally bubble up to the top, reducing the signal-to-noise ratio for all stakeholders—which is, perhaps, the greatest need in the age of information abundance. 

Furthermore, to enable seamless communication, the platform supports tele- and video-conferencing options. These are in addition to the written communication channels. Together, this wide range of communication channels enables the diverse user base of stakeholders to engage in unprecedented networking and collaborative opportunities. 

Owing to its revolutionary, first-of-its-kind approach in the field of tuberculosis, TBConnect is already gaining wide recognition. While still in its infancy, the next-generation portal has already been nominated for the Digital Revolution Award in addition to the 2024 BUPA Everywoman in Technology award. 

To learn more about TBConnect and join the unified movement against tuberculosis, interested parties are encouraged to explore the wealth of resources at www.muellerhealthfoundation.org/tbconnect/.

About Mueller Health Foundation

Founded in 2015, Mueller Health Foundation is a philanthropic organization with a techno-optimist philosophy. Through its grants for scientific research, educational initiatives, technological innovations, and data excellence, this family-led organization is leading the charge against infectious diseases, with a strong emphasis on tuberculosis. 

TBConnect represents the group’s flagship charge against tuberculosis, an open and free-for-all platform where all key stakeholders will engage in open dialogue while retaining auditable ownership over their ideas through NFTs. 

More details can be found at www.muellerhealthfoundation.org/.

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