Telecoms & IT

An E-shot in the Arm

The use of IT in containing COVID-19

With information a key precursor to vaccination itself, Oman's health authorities have leveled the latest technology at the pandemic in the interests of public and economy alike.

Today IT is the sine qua non of scientific endeavor, without which the prosthetic heart valves, medications, and imminent 3D printed organs once unimaginable would remain in the realm of fantasy. Yet during the pandemic, Oman’s government capitalized on widespread public familiarity with mobile devices and apps to gather, process, and deliver data essential to immediate health.

Oman’s Digital Signature

The Ministry of Health (MoH), largely reliant on internal resources, has become a frontrunner of the broader e-government strategy. It is but one vital component in the integrated digitalization vision of the Directorate General of Information Technology (DGIT) as both public and private sectors advance toward Industry 4.0. By establishing the e-health portal of integrated health information services, MoH is reducing Oman’s digital gap while working toward a paperless digital environment.
High among its e-chievements is the national system for E-health records—Nahr Al-Shifa or NEHR—which has pooled all public and private health institutions into one single e-health record based upon the individual’s ID number. Meanwhile, the need for actionable data has been met by Nabdh Al-Shifa, Oman’s central database for health-related information. This allows for the generation of national reports and statistics using business intelligence tools.

Weathering the Pandemic

As the pandemic took hold globally, it became all-too clear that merely closing down air travel was a temporary stopgap, and that ultimately a cautious policy of screening and quarantine would be necessary as the world inevitably inched toward normalization. Evidence of that pressing economic need to reinstate normalcy may be found in the opening of the Oman Tourism Development Company’s (OMRAN) dusitD2 Naseem Resort in Jabal Akhdar on July 6, 2021, marking the first Dusit-branded hotel in the Sultanate. This major facility features an 8,000-sqm adventure park on the Saiq Plateau in Jabal Akhdar, just a two-hour drive from Muscat International Airport. In Muscat, a 24/7 Center of Operation Management has been set up to crunch pandemic-related data and undertake epidemiological tracking of the virus.

An App’ed Solution

In June 2020, Oman deployed cutting-edge technology to track the progression of COVID-19 and promote public compliance with isolation requirements to spare the Sultanate a heavy impact. The Tarassud Plus system (including related bracelet) is a mobile app reliant upon AI to include current pandemic data and tips for prevention of infection. Furthermore, with so much speculation abounding in an unprecedented moment in living memory the app sought to expose disinformation. Medical hotlines and support staff took patient calls and directed those in urgent need to care facilities. And once diagnosed, a medical tracking bracelet connected to the application ensured compliance with terms of quarantine. The app was made available in Arabic, English, Hindi, Bengali, and Urdu to account for locals and resident alike.

Despite Oman’s well-timed steps to square up to the pandemic, reflecting other parts of the world, as of mid-July cases were up notably. Data gathered on the Tarassud app broke down fatalities as of July 12 into 2,480 Omanis and 955 expats, with 2,388 being males and 1,047 females. According to Ministry data as of July 13, 3,217 new cases of COVID-19 had presented themselves, taking registered cases in the Sultanate to 287,054. And while 260,826 recoveries were observed (91%), there had been a total of 3,472 deaths (1.2%).

The MoH remains vigilant to ensure visitor health and is taking the appropriate precautions to prevent new strains from reaching Oman. The Tarassud app is a required download for all visitors. And once a quarantine period of seven days is up, on the eighth day assuming a new PCR test returns a negative result, the Tarrasud bracelet can be removed, and domestic travel is permitted. The app also enables the authorities to ensure that those who test positive are unable to gain access to crowded public spaces such as malls. It works hand in glove with the government’s Sahala Platform, on which institutional quarantine bookings (at OMR130 a pop) have been done by agents of Destination Management Companies since the end of March 2021.
Oman’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been exemplary, and the technology employed to stay ahead of the virus is but a part of the Sultanate’s broader mission of social and industrial digitalization.

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