Startups and private tech players have come to the fore in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic. World over, the active collaboration between organizations and governments and the ingenious, cost-effective and efficient solutions developed by tech companies and non-profits are helping in swiftly tracing the reach of the pathogen, making visualizations for identifying hotspots, enabling better decision- making and above all empowering people.
In Africa, which has a stark digital divide and woefully inadequate health infrastructure, tech startups are giving the necessary boost to governments’ efforts. Their proactive approach and wide outreach are playing a big role in mitigating the situation. Let’s have a look at the various ways through which tech players are contributing in checking the spread of the virus.
Web platforms/ apps
In Nigeria, which is Africa’s most populous country, a company named Wellvis has created a Covid-19 Triage Tool that helps users assess themselves for infection and get to know their level of risk, on the basis of their past record and exposure history. Based on the responses they get, users will be either provided remote medical counsel or redirected to the nearest health facility. At a time of mass anxiety and panic, where every minute counts in saving lives, the tool has eased the extra burden on the country’s disease control helplines.
Redbird, an e-health startup in Ghana, has also launched a COVID-19 tracker that enables users to test and report symptoms without going to a healthcare center. The app also provides information to public health officials so that they can map and analyze the outbreak.
South Africa’s Department of Health has created a WhatsApp helpline with the assistance of WHO and Praekelt, a non-profit organization that uses mobile technology for the betterment of the poor. Users are required to save the helpline number in their phones, following which they can send any queries and receive automated responses immediately. The data is updated with information from local and global news outlets as well as the latest WHO briefing in order to provide real-time updates. The service reached to over 10 million users in less than a week.
Incubation & AI
CcHub, Africa’s biggest tech incubator, has also launched a fund for tech projects to contain the spread of the pandemic and limit its socio-economic ramifications. The organization has posted an open application on its website mentioning that it will provide $5,000 to $100,000 to companies that come up with Covid-19 projects.
Zindi, a crowdsolving startup based in Cape Town, uses AI and Machine Learning to deal with complex scenarios. The company has launched an online challenge for over 12,000 engineers who are registered with its platform. The challenge has been sponsored by AI4D and it requires creating models that can predict the spread of coronavirus in the next three months.
Zipline, a Silicon Valley-based drone delivery service, is helping government officials in Ghana track the spread of the coronavirus by delivering test samples collected in rural areas to medical laboratories. It’s for the first time that UAVs have been deployed for making essential deliveries over long range in jam-packed localities. On April 17, the day when the service started, over 50 Covid-19 test samples were transported to the company’s distribution center in Omenako, Ghana. Four drones flew more than 100 kms to Accra, the country’s capital, for testing. Zipline also operates in Rwanda.
The company says that the new service will use drones to make on-demand, emergency deliveries of 148 different vaccines, blood products, and life-saving medications. The service will operate 24*7 from 4 distribution centers—each equipped with 30 drones—and deliver to 2,000 health facilities serving 12 million people across the country. Each Zipline distribution center has the capacity to make up to 500 flights per day
Money transfer using phone apps is quite prevalent in Kenya due to popular app M-Pesa, which is used by millions. Kenyan telecom company Safaricom that owns M-Pesa has waived the fee it charges for mobile money transfer. It has made all person-to-person (P2P) transactions under 1,000 Kenyan Schillings ($10) free for next three months. Airtel, another telecom operator, has also waived fee on all money transfers. Ghana’s central bank has also asked telecom companies to waive fees on transactions of 100 cedi ($18) and relax registrations requirements so that citizens can open more than one account.
Jumia, the E-commerce giant of the continent, has offered to help governments of multiple countries by providing its delivery network for the supply of essential equipment at healthcare centers.
Fresh-in-a-box, a Zimbabwean startup is delivering farm-fresh produce directly at homes of customers. Orders can be made on the company app and food boxes are delivered while adhering to all preventive measures like social distancing.
Also Read: How South Africa uses tech to fight Covid-19