South Africa’s COVID-19 Tracing Database: Risks and rewards of which doctors should be aware

Publication Type:

Journal Article


South African Medical Journal, Volume 110 (2020)



<p>In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa (SA) has established a Tracing Database, collecting both aggregated and individualised mobility and locational data on COVID-19 cases and their contacts. There are compelling public health reasons for this development, since the database has the potential to assist with policy formulation and with contact tracing. While potentially demonstrating the rapid facilitation through technology of an important public service, the Tracing Database does, however, infringe immediately upon constitutional rights to privacy and heightens the implications of ethical choices facing medical professionals. The medical community should be aware of this surveillance innovation and the risks and rewards it raises. To deal with some of these risks, including the potential for temporary rights- infringing measures to become permanent, there are significant safeguards designed into the Tracing Database, including a strict duration requirement and reporting to a designated judge. African states including SA should monitor this form of contact tracing closely, and also encourage knowledge-sharing among cross-sectoral interventions such as the Tracing Database in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.</p>