Uruguay’s Early Use of Technology and Innovation

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 26

According to the World Health Organization on 12/29/2020, there were 16,728 cases with 158 deaths in Uruguay from January through December 2020. Uruguay has been seen to have a successful track record of low number of cases and minimal deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, and even avoided mandatory quarantine, even though situated between two of the most impacted countries in South America – Argentina and Brazil

Just as other countries are seeing a spike in numbers over December, Uruguay was not alone. The ‘first wave’ as President Luis Lacalle Pou termed it was upon Uruguay in mid-December. President Pou set new measures in place due to the increase in cases including: the regulation of Article 38 of the Constitution (the power of the executive power to dissolve agglomerations), the prohibition of entry from abroad between December 21-January 10, and the reduction of the capacity in interdepartmental transportation by half on those dates. 

The first case was confirmed March 13, 2020 and that same day the Coronavirus UY was launched by the government. Uruguay’s digital government agency (AGESIC) already had a digital plan with 90% of services already available online before the pandemic began. Additionally, the majority of the population had access to the internet already. However, even with these digital innovations and advancement of the country, there were still concerns regarding privacy and data governance specific to technologies such as with the Coronavirus UY app. Giovanni Escalante of the PAHO/WHO noted that Uruguay’s success was due to the efficient public health care system, the strong leadership of the health sector and government, and their digital innovation. 

Uruguay was one of the first countries to create their very own Coronavirus test and had sequenced the virus genome from patients beginning in March to help track and understand the spread of the virus. This proved effective to help slow the spread of the virus because they did not have to wait to begin testing. 

As in most countries, the airports are critical to the management of the crises as a main point of entry and exit to other locations. Uruguay took innovative measures to help slow the spread by implementing the use of big data to aid the national prevention, and a containment campaign. This included analyzing and examining travelers as to their risk profile through Easy Airport. With the data from risk profiling, they were able to swiftly move forward in initiating protocols in real time to help with the containment. This was one of the earliest and first steps.

Another tactic used included focus on the healthcare system with their healthcare app and contract tracing software. Uruguay already had a universal healthcare system in place and the majority of the residents had trust in their government authorities according to a 2017 study. Everyone in Uruguay has the same rights when it comes to medical care. 

According to Giovanni Escalanre, the PAHO/WHO representative of Uruguay, the country has “one of the most resilient health care systems in Latin America and there has been sustainable investment in it over a decade.” Therefore, when an official Coronavirus UY app was developed that integrated with social media most of the population were accepting of this technology for digital health records, information on healthcare providers and more. In a quick 7-days, the multi-communication channels were built. 

Besides healthcare, Uruguay had also transformed education with universal access to computers. The Plan Ceibal, a national virtual program, was offering online education while schools were closed due to technologies that had been developed over the last decade in partnership with Uruguay’s government-owned telecommunications company, Antel. As of June 2020, 100% of public schools had wi-fi networks for example. In 2007, there was a policy instituted where each family would receive one laptop per child to support digital inclusion and equity. Having this national plan already in place meant that the country could easily move to a digital learning environment within your home. 

One could say Uruguay was still winning due to its swift technology implementation and innovation; both which have been instrumental in the fight against COVID. They took proactive steps with testing strategies, integration of big data, contact tracing methods, and innovative approaches to education. Even with concerns regarding the privacy of data and the possible use of the data for political means, the country seems to have made a significant impact in the pandemic fight and continues to try to stay ahead when it comes to innovation

By Dr. Michele A. L. Villagran

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