Africa still remains fairly low when it comes to confirmed corona virus cases compared with other parts of the world. But as the number of confirmed cases continue to rise, experts worry that fragile healthcare systems will be swiftly overwhelmed, especially if the virus hits overcrowded areas. However like elsewhere in the world, technological solutions are being adopted across Africa to deal with problems caused by the crisis surrounding COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the corona virus.
Many tech initiatives across Africa are responding to the pandemic as innovators scramble to find solutions to the inevitable economic shocks or strain on healthcare systems in Africa. Technology analyst Moses Kemibaro, has pointed out the unprecedented scenario in Africa where technology has become front and centre in many everyday issues case in point being Internet service providers doing serious upgrades to sustain customer demands during this period.
Telecommunications operators including in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia and Ghana removed fees on smaller mobile money transactions to discourage people from handling cash followed by other payment platforms, making digital payment services more freely available.
Information about coronavirus and how to try and stay safe is being widely disseminated by WhatsApp, SMS and other platforms. Technology is also being used to quickly gather insights into citizens’ lives amid the pandemic.
From a WhatsApp Chatbot to a self-diagnosis tool, Africans are devising mobile tech solutions to contain the spread of the coronavirus amid fears it could have disastrous effects for the continent’s most vulnerable. Governments, charities and entrepreneurs are racing to tap local knowledge to spread awareness of the virus simply and swiftly, and prevent it from reaching overcrowded, under-resourced slums.
In Uganda for example, while many people are using apps and websites to educate themselves about coronavirus, women market sellers in Uganda are using an app to help people avoid spreading it. The Market Garden app lets the vendors safely sell and deliver fruits and vegetables to customers as restrictions to promote social distancing come into play. The app allows vendors to keep earning an income through the country’s current lockdown. This reduces bustling crowds in market areas by allowing women to sell their goods from their homes through the app, and then motorcycle taxis deliver the goods to customers. The women are paid through the platform to limit the risk of the virus transmitting through the exchange of cash.
Amidst all this, Wale Adeosun, the Chief Executive Officer of Nigeria-based Wellvis Company, an online health information platform, has reflected on the need for African solutions to majority of the problems faced in Africa i.e. “The best solutions are those designed from the user’s perspective and with their inputs,” Adeosun asserted.
African solutions should therefore consider the fact that 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, Manxoba, a South African domestic worker has pointed out that in as much as WhatsApp is not too expensive, continuous access for a couple of months it is still an additional cost that cannot be prioritized in instances where income threatened. This is coupled with the challenge of getting information out to everyone in a population whose members practice a variety of cultures and speak a vast array of languages and dialects.
Further still, some countries have in place measures that undermine citizens’ access to digital communications, which hampers the use of ICT in fighting against the spread of the coronavirus. For instance Uganda’s social media tax of USD 0.05 per day of access is an impediment to access to information for many citizens, notably lower income groups. In most of Africa, internet access remains out of reach for many, with high taxation being a key driver of the high cost of access.
As the situation on the pandemic evolves, the best ideas for Africa will come from the continent’s own companies, organizations and designers considering that approaches to our own solutions cannot be gotten from individuals who do not understand our context. Meanwhile, taxes on access to vital platforms such as social media should be scrapped to enhance citizens’ access to information.