When retired Lieutenant Colonel Rasika Kahandagamage and his team conceived Suwapetha, it was meant to serve as a digital database to help frontline health workers, the Western Province epidemiology unit and public health inspectors to keep track of resources. The web application quickly proved to be useful and met the need of the hour.
The government and its stakeholders knew early on that rapid detection, contact tracing and pursuant of health measures were key metrics to curb the spread of the SARS CoV-2 virus (or COVID-19). This also meant tabulating figures and insertion of hand written notes by every Public Health Inspector on a digital screen for a timely and integrated approach. It is truly as hard as it sounds.
Rasika and six members of his team work round the clock because Suwapetha is no longer limited to a web application and neither is it only for resource allocation. Today Suwapetha is used by thousands of ordinary Sri Lankans to make sense of the numbers on the COVID-19 grid.
“When the second wave of COVID-19 hit, we increased the features of the application and had the opportunity to show it to the President, who immediately opined that citizens should have access to this technology,” said Retired Lt. Col Rasika Kahandagamage (RSP,SLSC).
Quintessentially it is a live COVID-19 tracker. You can use the app to see which area in the country has the highest COVID-19 infections. The best part is, it gives you a real time update of just how many infections are in your vicinity. Information that is very hard to come by.
The app uses Google Maps, making use of geospatial data as its backbone to show you your precise location and rates the area you’re in based on how close you are to the nearest COVID-19 patient. It displays the total number of patients within one square kilometer. The little bulb icon on the main screen gives you a live COVID situation, showing the number of active cases, number of recoveries and deaths. During the last three weeks, joining in the government’s vaccination drive, Suwapetha also displayed vaccination centers individuals can go to get the jab.
Suwaeptha also gives you a breakdown of daily confirmed cases. This data is further broken down into age categories and gender. Looking a bit more into where Suwapetha gets its data from, it appears that the developers data source is the COVID19API, which is a free API for data on the Coronavirus, which in turn gets its data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.
“Everyone seems to want to know how critical or safe their area is, but not everyone has access to that information,” said Lt. Col Rasika. “It is not easy particularly when Public Health Inspectors, even to-date, use a pen and notepad to scribble down information on every COVID-19 infection in their areas and other personal details. In Sri Lanka, everyone is used to doing things manually, this leaves a lot of room for errors. We try our best to minimize these errors to provide factual information in a timely manner.”
Suwapetha also provides details of emergency contacts such as the Presidential Task Force, Government Information Center, Quarantine Unit, Health Promotion Bureau, to name a few. Lastly, you can edit your profile, and add your contact details, address, age and gender if you wish to do so. “We are very strict about privacy of information. While we ask you to enter your name and location it is purely to give you the most accurate result. Similarly we do not in any format or manner collect or store information on COVID-19 patients.”
The app is developed by a small team and they indeed have their work cut out for them when it comes to making sure that the figures they publish are accurate. For example, it might take a couple of hours or perhaps even longer for Suwapetha to be updated with the latest figures, especially if it’s taking geospatial data into view. Rasika describes receiving a street name or village locality ascribed to a person, and other details. It is then up to his team to map out the coordinates. “Sometimes we come across old addresses or a name of a place the patient is no longer staying at, in such situations we have to minimize the errors.”
The app is developed by the Epidemiology Unit of the Western Provincial Ministry of Health and the WHO country office for Sri Lanka. The development team consists of Dr. Padmal De Silva from the Health Systems Policy and Evaluation of WHO – Sri Lanka, Dr. Yudhisteera Wedisinghe, MO Vector Borne Disease Control from the Office of the Provincial Director of Health Services, Lt. Col L.R.K. (retd.) Kahandagamage RSP SLSC, and Tayon U. Jayawaradana, an IT graduate of the University of Moratuwa.
Released on the 22nd of November 2020, the app has undergone its fair share of tweaks and modifications. The most stable version of the app was launched on the 30th of April 2021. The technical features of the app and its maintenance is undertaken by Rasika and his team at G-Sentry, a geospatial technical company that provides state-of-the-art mapping service.
Suwapetha has a long way to go, Rasika says candidly. He has big plans for the small time app and said he was immensely grateful to the Governor of the Western Province for the assistance rendered to him and his team to make this application a success.
This mobile application is available to the public at no cost. Visit https://www.g-sentry.cloud. for more information. Download the Suwapatha app for the right information at the right time to protect you and your loved ones and stay safe.