The virus killer: How blockchain contributes to the fight against COVID-19

On Jan. 30, the South China Morning Post reported that one of the largest Asian pharmaceutical companies, Zuellig, had launched a blockchain-based system to track the quality of COVID-19 vaccines. Called “eZTracker,” it allows any user to “instantly verify the provenance and authenticity” of vaccines by scanning the QR code on the package. Somewhat surprisingly, throughout the pandemic, there have not been many reports of blockchain-based products adopted by big pharma or global healthcare organizations to bolster the anti-COVID effort. Here is a rundown of the major cases of such adoption, along with possible reasons for the limited interest in blockchain among healthcare officials. 

South Korea: Blockchain vaccine passports

In April 2021, the South Korean government became the first to introduce blockchain-based vaccine passports amid the COVID-19 crisis. Putting proof of vaccination on a distributed ledger ensures the authenticity of the document as many people around the world tend to counterfeit such “Green Passes,” which sometimes can secure access to restaurants, public spaces and travel.

The app, which goes by the name COOV, was developed by London-based Blockchain Labs and is available on the App Store and Google Play Store. It generates a QR-code for each user and ensures that all personal data is stored on the user’s device, exchanging it with the app host through blockchain only.

Brazil: The National Health Data Network

The blockchain-based National Health Data Network is not being built specifically to fight the coronavirus — it constitutes a vital part of the ambitious plan to digitize Brazil’s entire healthcare system. Yet, the system has been used to respond to coronavirus-related challenges since late 2020.

The main use of the Brazilian network, like that in South Korea, is vaccination tracking. The system registers every jab immediately, creating a database that allows for a “continuity of care in the public and private sectors.” The national healthcare digitization project is expected to be completed by 2023.

Mexico: COVID-19 test certificates

In October 2021, private healthcare provider MDS Mexico launched a rapid COVID-19 testing service, backed by blockchain. The digital platform allows patients to get their test results in real-time via a QR code and to safely store their vaccination history. Once again, the company cited the fight against counterfeit vaccinations as the key mission of the platform:

To avoid the falsification of negative results, we began to certify the SARS-CoV-2 detection tests with blockchain technology and cryptographic signature, which protects the information in a unique, immutable and unalterable QR Code that can be verified worldwide.

The private initiative followed the earlier announcement of Mexico’s National Chamber of Commerce that it plans to digitize vaccine passports with the use of blockchain technology.

Other ideas

These examples represent only a small fraction of all blockchain-related projects that are being developed to combat public health threats. Distributed ledgers can help to manage supply chains, ensure the quality of drugs, hold medical records, process insurance claims and increase the efficiency of systems performing a range of other tasks.

Besides safe data management and vaccine tracking, healthcare researchers see opportunities to use blockchains in an even greater variety of areas. A group of American medical scholars proposes a blockchain-based movement pass that relies on smart contracts and tokens to facilitate social distancing. A Scottish research group came up with a project of a blockchain platform, synchronized with the Internet of Things (IoT), that can trace contacts without compromising user identities.

Promoting cross-border compatibility

Enabling cross-border data sharing that could preserve patients’ privacy is a humongous task. To solve it, two scientists from the National Institute of Technology Raipur (India) designed a consortium blockchain to identify and validate COVID-19-related reports through the comparison of the perceptual hash of each report with existing on-chain perceptual hashes.

Reporting COVID-related data to healthcare authorities can get problematic in a pandemic. Jim Nasr, CEO of Acoer — the company that launched the first decentralized COVID-19 tracker back in 2020 — shared his U.S. experience with Cointelegraph:

Every state has its own requirements and mechanism for collection of state-level COVID data. In turn, the states have mandatory infectious disease reporting obligations to federal government entities that largely fund them. The quality and timeliness of data reporting is at best inconsistent, inefficient and publicly non-transparent.

The problems that remain

Currently, the vast majority of COVID-19-related projects still live only on paper. As the most acute phase of the pandemic is arguably over, healthcare innovators seem to be less inclined to focus specifically on the coronavirus. Meanwhile, the number of medical blockchain startups remains on the rise in a variety of more general areas, such as patient consent, clinical trial recruitment, IoT device management, clinical goods supply, finished goods traceability and many others.

Nevertheless, the larger problem of the relationship between blockchain innovation and healthcare officials persists. As Nasr notes, ​​many traditional public health institutions are not ready to embrace blockchain-powered innovation:

In my experience, many of their KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) are under-informed about DLTs and largely [concerned] about the noise in the space (e.g. scamming, cryptocurrency volatility, dealing with keys & wallets, etc).

It is not solely the lack of information that affects adoption. At the end of the day, both public and private healthcare sectors could lack the incentives to innovate in the direction of transparency. Nasr believes that some current problematic aspects of the healthcare industry — “particularly siloed data and opacity of pricing and process” — maintain its profitability and support a thick layer of intermediaries who all benefit along the way. The missing component here is patient pushback that could arise from a better understanding of their rights of data transparency and privacy.


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Layer 1 Project Aleo Raises $200M

Key Takeaways

  • Aleo has closed a $200 million funding round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Kora Management.
  • The team aims to build a scalable and privacy-centered blockchain using zero-knowledge proofs.
  • Once live as a mainnet, Aleo will reward validator nodes with its native token, Aleo Credits.

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Aleo has raised $200 million in a series B funding round to build a new Layer 1 blockchain focused on scalability and user privacy.

Aleo Pulls In VC Backing

Aleo, a Layer 1 blockchain focused on scalability and privacy, has closed a $200 million funding round. The team announced in a tweet that it hoped to “build the next-generation of private apps powered by zero-knowledge proofs.”

The funding round was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Kora Management. Also participating were such notable VCs as Tiger Global, Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), Samsung Next, Slow Ventures, and Sea Capital.

Aleo was created by Howard Wu, who based it on his original research on novel cryptographic primitive called ZeXe.

The Layer 1 blockchain will employ a security model in which decentralized applications are hosted on-chain but most computations take place off-chain. To do this, Aleo will rely on of zero-knowledge proofs. Notably, such proofs are currently being used by existing blockchain scalability solutions on Ethereum, including Polygon Miden, StarkWare, zkSync, and Loopring.

The Aleo testnet is currently live with a mainnet launch planned soon. Once that goes live, blockchain will reward validator nodes with its native token, Aleo Credits. The token will be used to pay for computational resources in the Aleo blockchain ecosystem.

Aleo has also released Aleo Studio, a development environment like GitHub that will be used exclusively for zero-knowledge proofs. The team has also developed a new programming language named Leo. Both of these resources are geared toward simplifying the experience  of deploying applications on the network.

As of today, Aleo has raised a total of $228 million. It closed a Series A round of $28 million led by a16z in April 2021.

Disclosure: At the time of writing, the author of this piece owns ETH. 

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Privacy-focused applications platform Aleo raises $200M

Zero-knowledge applications platform Aleo has raised $200 million in a solid investment round, pushing the company forward and supporting its goals to develop products and services that encourage and assist developers in building applications on top of its decentralized network.

The Series B investment round was led by Kora Management LP and SoftBank Vision Fund 2, which invest in fintech projects within emerging digital economies. Samsung Ventures also participated in the raise along with Tiger Global, Sea Capital, Slow Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).

Aleo is building a network that integrates zero-knowledge proofs, a cryptography technique that lets the platform become scalable, private and interoperable.

Aaron Wong, an investor at SoftBank Investment Advisers says that Aleo is creating a foundation that ensures that Web3 is scalable, safe and secure. Wong added that this will enhance financial transactions and gaming applications as well.

“As the blockchain industry continues to evolve, it is proving its potential to support a digital ecosystem defined by accessibility, efficiency, and interoperability.

Daniel Jacobs, Founder at Kora Management LP says that the biggest challenges in the industry are privacy and scalability. According to Jacobs, Aleo “will have profound impacts on a large and growing number of applications in the blockchain space and beyond.”

Related: a16z-backed TrueFi launches DeFi lending market for asset managers

Jacobs explained that the project could protect user and application identity without giving up on performance that’s required to support many users. He also further noted that Aleo will become a catalyst that spurs the next generation of gaming, decentralized finance, and other use cases within the blockchain industry.

As Cointelegraph reported in April, Aleo secured $28 million in a private investment round to bring its platform for zero-knowledge applications to a wider audience. Venture capital firm a16z led the effort followed by investments from Coinbase Ventures, Galaxy Digital, and others.