Tech Leaders and Health Authorities From Around the Globe Collaborate to Combat COVID-19
Linux Foundation Public Health launches with open-source exposure notification apps being deployed in Ireland, Canada, and multiple U.S. states
The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization enabling mass innovation through open source, launched a new initiative to use open source technologies to help public health authorities (PHAs) around the world combat COVID-19 and future epidemics. The new Linux Foundation Public Health (LFPH) initiative is launching with seven Premier members – Cisco, doc.ai, Geometer, IBM, NearForm, Tencent, and VMware – and two hosted exposure notifications projects, COVID ShieldTM and COVID Green, which are currently being deployed in Canada, Ireland, and several U.S. states.
LFPH will initially focus on exposure notification applications that use the Google Apple Exposure Notification (GAEN) system and will be expanding to support all aspects of PHA’s testing, tracing, and isolation activities.
“To catalyze this open source development, Linux Foundation Public Health is building a global community of leading technology and consulting companies, public health authorities, epidemiologists and other public health specialists, privacy and security experts, and individual developers,” said Dan Kohn, LFPH general manager. “While we’re excited to launch with two very important open source projects, we think our convening function to enable collaboration to battle this pandemic may be our biggest impact.”
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COVID Shield was developed by a volunteer team at Shopify and is in the process of being deployed in Canada. COVID Green was developed by a team at NearForm as part of the Irish Government’s response to the pandemic. Since being deployed by Ireland’s Health Services Executive two weeks ago, it has achieved extraordinarily high adoption of over 1/3rd of the country’s adults. Both apps are available for other PHAs and their IT partners to use and customize and will soon be joined by other open source projects hosted by LFPH. Covid Watch, Kiel University of Applied Sciences, and US Digital Response have also joined as nonprofit associate members.
“During this grave global crisis, I’m committed to having all parts of the Linux Foundation community support LFPH,” said Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin. “Open source provides an architecture for global collaboration and that’s what’s needed to build, secure, and sustain critical components of our stressed public health infrastructure. The Linux Foundation has long enabled cross-industry collaboration in over a dozen verticals and Dan Kohn, who led the Cloud Native Computing Foundation to rapid growth that defined a multi-billion dollar industry, is an ideal choice to lead this effort.”
Particularly in the U.S., PHAs have suffered from decades of underinvestment and urgently need to scale their capabilities to engage with the entire public during the worst pandemic in a century. Many companies and individuals in the technology industry are eager to assist PHAs in meeting these challenges and LFPH provides a forum and toolset for them to engage in constructive ways.
“We are pleased to contribute COVID Green, the open source code behind Ireland’s COVID Tracker app, to LFPH,” said Fran Thompson, Chief Information Officer of Ireland’s Health Service Executive. “This app is a great demonstration of innovation within the Irish health sector combined with the IT capabilities of the Irish software industry. We’re immensely proud of the work we’ve undertaken in partnership with NearForm in responding to the pandemic. We are looking forward to collaborating with other public health authorities around the world via LF Public Health to assist them in quickly replicating our approach while learning from their experiences.”
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COVID Shield was developed by a volunteer team of more than 40 developers from Shopify, along with members of the Ontario and Canadian Digital Services. While not an official Shopify project, the efforts were supported by Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke. “We’re very happy to host COVID Shield with LFPH and we welcome contributions from other developers to make it as easy as possible for PHAs to get started with exposure notifications,” said Aaron Olson, COVID-19 Shield volunteer.
In addition to COVID Shield and COVID Green, an earlier cross-industry collaboration effort, the TCN Coalition, is merging into LFPH. The TCN Coalition is a global community of technologists supporting the development of privacy-preserving and cross-compatible exposure notification apps during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially founded to ensure cross-border interoperability and to reduce duplication of development efforts, the TCN Coalition has evolved to include supporting public health authorities in their engagements with app-building teams and IT providers.
“The leadership and members of TCN are proud to join forces with the Linux Foundation to establish the new LFPH initiative,” said Andreas Gebhard, Co-Founder and COO of TCN Coalition. TCN Coalition Executive Director Jenny Wanger added: “This is a logical next step for the work we’ve been doing since our inception. We look forward to an even wider collaboration to help navigate this fast-moving and essential endeavor.” Wanger is now serving as the Head of the Implementer’s Forum for LFPH, where she coordinates implementation teams around the world that are building COVID-19 tools, while publicly documenting best practices.
Last week, LFPH gathered representatives from nearly every country building a GAEN app at its GAEN Symposium and will host similar events in the future as well as ongoing special interest groups focused on areas like user interface/user experience (UI/UX), localization, and security and privacy. LFPH has also developed a landscape (shown below) to allow tracking the open and closed source applications in the COVID-19 response ecosystem and the current status of application rollouts around the world