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While the nation is under a health emergency, various solutions are being undertaken at different levels to counteract the adverse impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Ingenious ideas and changes in different fields: medicine, logistics, informatics, etc. are being considered as the need of the hour for the nation to be able to expedite its efforts in the fight against the catastrophe and to impede further havoc begotten by it.
One such initiative has been taken by a team, led under the supervision of Prof. Kameswari Chebrolu of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (IIT-B), which has developed the WWH (World Wide Help) platform. World Wide Help is a platform which provides a low-cost solution for delivering information over phone-calls to people who lack access to smartphones, by keeping experts in the loop for the purpose. The basic premise of WWH was that unlike the privileged section of the population which has access to the Internet and its services (like Google, Quora, etc.) to rely on for getting information, the bottom of the pyramid does not have the resources or digital literacy for the same.
However, the platform works in any situation (urban/rural or on any topic/domain) where people need contact with help/information providers to acquire relevant and credible information or assistance. The platform relies on a network of professionals to provide information and help customised to user needs by leveraging cheap smartphones and human crowd to scale.
This platform supports two features: Help and Surveys, as described below.
The Help feature helps in connecting people who require help (e.g., patients, senior citizens) with those providing help (e.g., health care providers, doctors, NGO volunteers). This is how the basic functioning of the platform goes like:
- Organizations need to recruit helpers (those providing help) who need to install an Android app.
- Help can be requested by the general public via phone call (from any type of phone) or WhatsApp messaging
- The person requiring help is connected to the helpers directly via phone call and/or the help request is converted into a task and assigned to the helpers.
- The helpers, when free, can open the task in their app, call or message the person, and provide help/advice (anonymously).
Thus it allows the provision of help remotely to the extent feasible: this is essential during high load and/or lockdown. Another advantage that it puts forward is the fact that this is a much cheaper and scalable alternative compared to call centers.
A few example scenarios in which WWH can be employed to be used during COVID-19 are: –
- Hospitals set up helplines to connect patients with doctors to avoid unnecessary travel and contact.
- The Government sets up helplines for purposes such as:
- to provide information on COVID-19 or
b.provide information on Govt. schemes/packages that are being initiated to help people at the bottom of the pyramid during the lockdown, or
c.handle complaints from citizens.
- NGOs set up helplines to take care of senior citizens and people with disabilities during the lockdown.
This feature helps conduct surveys via phone calls without physically visiting people.
- Staff who will conduct the survey need to download the Android app
- 2. Authorities (e.g., BMC) needs to upload a file containing the phone numbers of people to call along with a Google form URL on the dashboard
- 3. The platform will distribute this work as tasks to the staff
- When staff open the task in their phone, they can call and simultaneously fill the form (all on the phone)
- Authorities can download all responses as a spreadsheet for analysis.
An example of the usage of the Survey feature could be: BMC workers are going around house to house collecting travel history of International travelers since February and noting the details in their diaries. In the given solution, this can be managed by phone calls, and further, everything is digitized.
The project team consists of 5 M. Tech. students, Vamshi Chiluka, Chirag Chauhan, Akhil Dadi, Varad Bhatnagar, Monil Dhaduk. They have been working on the platform for 3 years. Due to recent COVID-19, 3 more members have been recruited to help in speeding up the development of the platform.
The project is 3 years old and has seen a few deployments since the last 2 years for various purposes, each with its own customization (for providing agricultural advice, nutrition advice, career counseling advice, etc.).
For their next stage of development, the team is trying to integrate the platform with WhatsApp, so that people can request for help via it as well and support for video conferencing. They have also looked into the possibility to adapt this platform to handle disaster management (e.g., floods or earthquakes) where you have to connect people, volunteers, authorities while handling map/location related issues which are technologically hard when dealing with non-smartphones.
The “remote assistance” principle promotes the very idea of physical distancing, yet another advantage in addition to it being a low-cost solution. The project, in the past, has witnessed successful applications attuned for varied purposes and its fruitful syndication to different organizations and NGOs working towards different issues. Its integration into the public domain as a tool against the problem that is COVID-19 can bear productive results for the benefit of the people.