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#GITEX2020: Blockchain as foundational technology will transform health sector, others – Abdullahi

NITDA boss says Blockchain Technology will disrupt healthcare sector

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Nigeria’s perception of Blockchain Technology lies in its potential as foundational technology that will entrench trust and confidence in critical sectors of the economy such as health, education, public administration, among others.

The Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, stated this today, December 09, 2020 as a penalist at the ongoing Gulf Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

In his contribution on the topic: ‘Blockchain and the Future of Healthcare’, Abdullahi said that Blockchain as a technology has the potential to transform the healthcare by placing the patient in the center of healthcare ecosystem.

In his words, “It will bring about increased security, privacy and interoperability of data in the sector. Interoperability is a challenge in our healthcare, because if today you visit one healthcare facility and tomorrow you want your data transferred to another facility, you might have to repeat some of the tests or diagnoses there.

“So, having blockchain technology brings the transparency we are looking for and can reduce costs while eliminating the frictions caused by intermediaries. You can have access to your data anywhere and will be secured.

“Blockchain Technology is going to transform the healthcare sector by keeping the records secured; not just the patient’s record, it transverses the areas of medical records.  

“The technology has the potentials to eliminate fake drugs, because you can be able to see the source of the drug, where it goes before getting to your end.

“It will help to increase the trust and efficiency in general. You can access your record from any part of the world. You do not necessarily need to write to the facility you used earlier to transfer your record to another facility”.

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When asked if Nigeria as a country has launched applications in that regard, he said that the country is working assiduously to deploy Blockchain solutions being developed by startups to ensure the healthcare sector benefits from the technology.

“We are working on developing Blockchain adoption strategy because we see the technology not just as a disruptor but a foundation technology that can help to transform a lot of sectors. So, we are looking at Blockchain in general and some specifics.

“We have many startups with excellent ideas and we are working with some of them; building centers and IT hubs that can help turn those ideas into products and services. Some of the startups that made it to GITEX this year have some blockchain applications. So, we can look at them and adopt in the healthcare sector as well”, the DG of NITDA, added.

He further identified public sector and education as among the key areas where Blockchain Technology will have huge influence.

Abdullahi said, “Public administration is one of the key sectors that will benefit a lot from blockchain technologies. In Nigeria, we are coming up with the strategy to build an ecosystem in general. When you talk about ecosystem, it refers to innovation. Innovation is about invention and commercialization. So, we focus more on creating the entrepreneurial ecosystem that can help leapfrog our startups; from ideation to market.

“We have an initiative that will ensure there are at least 37 ecosystem (clusters) comprising the 36 States and the FCT.

“We have identified three general-purpose technologies we are going to focus on which blockchain is one of them. Others are; artificial intelligence and robotics.

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Why these three?

“For us, among all the emerging technologies, they are the most promising in terms of creating economic activities and volume; and helping countries to leapfrog. If you consider Africa in general, we lost out in the first, second and third industrial revolutions. Why? The investments required huge capitals. But, in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) you don’t need that kind of huge investment. What you should have are talents and mobile connectivity. So, we are widening the scope in this accelerating trends, increasing broadband penetration as well as harnessing our youthful population. So, we have this advantage in Nigeria in terms of our population that are mostly youth.

“So, blockchain technology is all-encompassing; from tacking of medication to record keeping and other sectors like education, finance, oil and gas. We are working with startups, challenging them to tackle some of our burning issues. We have different schemes like the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Scheme which is designed to work with startups, take them to established IT hubs for training and mentorship; a kind of internship programme. After graduation, they are given a startup voucher as means to provide them with working space and other logistics.

“Therefore, Blockchain with proven security architecture will entrench trust in the system. As far as the tech community is concerned, it is not something that someone can easily hijack it; to do that you need to form a consensus among the users”, he said.  

Quoting the former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Abdullahi said, ‘What the internet did for communications, blockchain will do for trusted transactions’.

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Continuing, he said, trust is key to our survival as people. We need to trust a system to be able to use it. I need to trust you to transact with you. If you look at Blockchain, the Cryptocurrency is just a tip of the iceberg because you can use it in many cases”.

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The panellists

Also speaking on the technology, a Professor in Blockchain, Olinga Taeed, described blockchain technology as a distributed system for recording and storing transaction, is faster, cheaper, secured and trusted for speculative transactions as the future of the fourth industrial revolution.

To him, in a blockchain system, there is no central authority as transaction records are stored and distributed across all network participants.

Contributing in the discussions, the Managing Partner, Health Group & Chief Health Privacy Security Officer at BTBlock, Dr. Alice Loveys said blockchain presents numerous opportunities but with several challenges on trustworthiness, transparency and accessibility that must be addressed before it is fully adopted by the healthcare system.

She said: “There are multiple parties in the ecosystem doing a lot of exchanges and on assets… We can then ask does the blockchain system benefits from increase trust, increase transparency? Are there complex business rules associated with the assets. It is certain that healthcare sector is more complex than that. The concern must be addressed”.

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