Technology and the fight against COVID-19 in Africa

The outbreak of corona-virus disease (COVID-19) has been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and the virus has now spread to many countries and territories. While a lot is still unknown about COVID-19, what is known is that it is transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person (generated through coughing and sneezing). Individuals can also be infected from touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and touching their face including eyes, nose and mouth.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact globally, the African governments have imposed measures such as travel bans, curfews, prohibition of mass gatherings, mandatory quarantines, closure of learning institutions, entertainment spots and borders to curb the pandemic. Some of these measures have boosted the use of digital technologies.

Many technology workers and companies are also joining efforts to alleviate the COVID-19 crisis in various ways, including developing products to combat the virus, tracking and predicting its spread, and protecting hospitals from cyber-attacks while enabling continuation of day to day operations at work, school, shopping just to name a few.

The evolution of technology has changed the way government and citizens respond and adapt to pandemic situations as compared to the past. Given that the people live in the digital age, it has opened many doors of technological opportunities for many individuals and hence, enable them to better manage and deal with the Covid-19 situation. Below are a few Countries in Africa, and some of their efforts in fighting COVID 19 documented;

Kenya

  • The country’s largest telecommunication, Safaricom, hasimplemented a fee-waiver on East Africa’s leading mobile-money product, M-Pesa, to reduce the physical exchange of currency and all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan Shillings (≈ $10) is free for three months.
  • Kenya Civil Aviation Authority has authorized the deployment of Google loons in the Kenyan airspace to provide 4G internet access across the country in partnership with Telkom.
  • CBK also approved the increase of daily M-Pesa transaction limits from the current KSh70,000 ($700) to KSh150,000 ($1,500) specifically to support small and micro business enterprises (SMEs). Kenyans are also able to transact up to Ksh300,000 ($3,000) up from the current limit of Ksh140,000 ($1,400) and hold up to Ksh300,000 ($3,000) in their M-Pesa wallets.
  • Kenya will begin automatic testing of the virus. KEMRI new tech has the capacity to test upto 35,000 samples on a daily basis. They will use the Cobas 6800 or the 8800 HIV viral load machines and the GeneXpert used for point of care testing for tuberculosis.
  • Kenyatta University Students have developed Ventilator prototype, through their innovation and incubation center in fight against Covid-19.
  • Eneza Education has partnered with Safaricom to deliver free learning materials by simplest way of mobile phones.

South Africa

  • In order to combat the spread of fake news, the South African government has set up an automated WhatsApp group to provide credible and factual details around COVID-19. At the same time, the Department of Health has launched a website specifically on coronavirus It provides citizens with the latest number on the virus and all the necessary information to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa are expecting “surge in usage of data as the majority of South Africans across all sectors have no option but work from home, learn from home and carry on their day to day life activities for instance shopping, entertainment from home through technological means”. They have requested mobile operators and pay-TV services to give people free DStv and data.
  • South African cellphone companies have agreed to give the government cellphone location data in order to help fight against the coronavirus behind Covid-19. The data could be used to determine at least how many people an infected individual had been in contact with.

Uganda

  • Government has been asked to waive off the “over-the-top” (OTT) tax, commonly known as the social media tax to ease communication and access to information during the Corona Virus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Zambia

  • The bank of Zambia has set measures in use of cashless transaction to reduce the spread of Covid-19 and also they have reduced inter-bank processing to promote the use of Real-time gross settlement(RTGS) systems.

Rwanda

  • Rwanda is now using technology to raise awareness against the COVID-19 pandemic. They have added the use of drones which moves around to raise awareness about the disease.
  • The government has recommended the citizens to embrace E-commerce and online grocery platforms to turn during and even after the coronavirus lockdown.

Ethiopia

  • Internet connectivity has been restored to a part of Ethiopia’s Oromia region which has been without connection for about three months and this has helped citizens access to critical information about covid-19.

Ghana

  • The Government of Ghana in collaboration with the Ministry of Communications have launched a new app designed to help in tracing people who have come into contact with COVID-19 positive individuals. The app is meant to augment the government’s effort in the fight against the global pandemic.
  • Ghana’s central bank has directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of GH₵100 (≈ $18), with restrictions on transactions to withdraw cash from mobile-wallets.

Nigeria

  • In Nigeria, health officials are partnering with the messaging service owned by Facebook to send push notifications to users with advice on symptoms and how to avoid infection. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is also getting free ad space on Facebook for outreach about the pandemic, a benefit available to public health authorities.

Egypt

  • The Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), the executive IT arm of the Egyptian Ministry of CIT, is detailing its efforts with the tech community in Egypt to support the attempts to tackle the global Coronavirus outbreak. The agency is mobilizing its available resources to accelerate research and innovation collaboration that could help in mitigating the impacts made by the global pandemic.
  • The agency is also giving a helping handwith the tech and startup community in the EMEA region supporting the ‘Wild Card’ online hackathon that called to build different components of a response system that helps people, businesses deal with the disruption.

Morocco

  • Morocco is encouraging local institutions and universities to manufacture locally medical devices to assist to country’s efforts in the fight against the novel coronavirus. In this connection, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Digital Economy brought together a cluster of 20 researchers and engineers who invented two 100% Morocco-made devices, an automatic ventilator and an infrared thermometer.

Senegal

  • The government of Senegal have developed a site which is available to Senegalese citizens by the Administration through the State Information Agency in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Social Action to enable them to follow the latest developments of the Covid-19 pandemic and take the necessary preventive measures to fight the virus.

Tunisia

  • The National Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology in Tunis, are exploring how digital tools and Artificial Intelligence can play a vital role in containing and overcoming the pandemic.

 Somalia

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross(ICRC) have provided tents for isolation to the Mogadishu hospital, where they are supporting and implementing a surveillance system to monitor suspected cases at clinics supported by the Somalia Red Crescent.

 Cameroon

  • MTN Cameroon has partnered with the Ministry of Public health to support “National Operational Plan for Preparation and Response against COVID-19 in Cameroon 2020” through the following initiatives:
  1. Intensification of Awareness Campaigns. MTN’s network, technologies and digital platforms will be used to disseminate the messages designed by the Ministry of Health to address the crisis.
  2. The Facilitation of Communications by health personnel involved in operations to combat the spread of COVID-19.
  3. Contributing to set up test centres envisaged by the Ministry of Public Health. 

In most of African countries, they have not embraced the use of technology and due to this, internet access remains out of reach for many, with high taxation being a key driver of the high cost of access. While governments and health experts see mobile tech as a fast and efficient way to help a large number of people stay healthy during the outbreak, not everyone is able to go online whenever they need information about the virus. For example, paying for data to access health sites and mobile tools is an expense many Africans can’t afford.