As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, countries across the world have been impacted. Africa in particular a has been faced with a lack of foreign investment, which may have sparked innovation in Africa as tech innovators find ways of creating, efficient inexpensive solutions that are to help fight against the pandemic.
For a continent where people are equipped to making do with limited resources, innovation in Africa in communities is fairly common. Who have created products ranging from home-made farm implements and vehicles, to the popular M-Pesa – the new mobile money payment system, Several startup hubs across Africa are creating innovative solutions, for the immediate demands of daily life.
As the corona virus targets the human respiratory system, individuals with severe symptoms find it very difficult to breath, and will need artificial ventilation. However, there are very few intensive care units in Africa that are fitted with these machines. This isn’t just a problem in Africa, industrialized nations like Germany and the United States have ordered car manufacturers to mass produce ventilators. With demand outweighing production, other counties like Ghana, South Africa, and Uganda have started producing their own ventilators.
In Uganda, an esteemed professor at Makerere University in Kampala, Vincent Ssembatya has partnered with another success story, car manufacturer Kiira Motors, with the primary objective of producing affordable ventilators for the countries cash-strapped health care system.
Another team at the Academic City University College in Ghana has demonstrated innovation and created a prototype ventilator but is currently amidst financial limitations to purchase more components for the device to be ready for certification and testing.
Non-profit venture capitalist Africa Business Angel Network is also working on creating another prototype, and Innoson Motors, a local auto manufacturer has sidelined its production process to manufacture ventilators.
Mobile apps and web solutions
After the success of its virtual hackathon early last week, WHO the World Health Organization is offering up to $20,000 in seed funds to the finalists that have digital solutions that may curb the pandemic. The winning team, representing Ghana has developed a tool that maps test cases that are similar to that of the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. The main difference however is that their screening tool has the ability to classify cases according to risk and furthermore submit the data to national authorities.
In Nigeria, Wellvis – the on-demand health information platform has utilized innovation in Africa and developed an easy-to-use app called COVID-19 Triage Tool. This free app allows users to assess their own risk category according to their symptoms and previous exposure history. Depending on the answers, the user will be offered remote medical advice or will be referred to a nearby health care facility. In parallel, the South African country is using platforms like WhatsApp to run interactive Chabot that can answer common questions about symptoms and treatments. Also, in an attempt to decrease fake news and curb panic, two alumni of the University of Cape Town have created Coronaapp, a tool that releases accurate and centralized information about the pandemic.
Mobile money transfer services
Africa is already familiar with phone-based money transfer services with the mobile money platform M-Pesa being used by more than 20 million people. Safaricom, the telecom giant that owns M-Pesa has waived fees on transactions under a certain amount. And Airtel have also waived charges of all payments through their platform Airtel Money.
Food delivery services
Lockdowns are targeted at stopping COVID-19 from spreading. But they also stop almost everything else including food deliveries to markets. In several Southern African cities, markets are essential to supplying locals with daily essentials, contrary to Europe where people can easily stock up on food.
Fresh In A Box, is a startup in Zimbabwe that delivers fresh food produce directly from farmers and door to door. The company operates mainly from an app, using their fleet of delivery motorcycles. This app helps reduce the risk of infection and prevents shortages of food in the community.
In Uganda, a popular app known as Market Garden allows for venders to deliver and sell fresh fruits and vegetable to customers as restrictions that promote social distancing have been applied. The app was developed by the Institute for Social Transformation, a Ugandan charity. The app reduces crowds in the market areas by allowing individuals to sell their goods from their home directly through the app.
Top 3 digital health technologies post- pandemic
It’s certain that the current pandemic will eventually come to an end. However, some of the digital health technologies we’ve adopted along the way have proven to be indispensable, and some technologies may not be so prominent after the crisis.
Here are top 3 digital health technologies that are likely to stick around post- pandemic.
1. Disinfectant robots
Ultraviolet (UV) lights, more specifically UV-C is a well-established digital disinfecting method that is commonly used in the healthcare world. It works by altering the virus’ genetic material, that way UV lights make sure that virus doesn’t replicate. However, if exposed to human skin, it can lead to sunburns, irritations, and in the worst case, skin cancer.
All that aside, the benefits of UV-C in effectively disinfecting hospitals is seriously attracting robotics engineers and healthcare workers alike. Companies such as YouiBot are reimagining and redesigning their current robots into UV disinfectant ones. Danish company UVD Robots has shipped hundreds of their existing disinfectant robots around the world during the pandemic.
In addition to saving valuable time and decreasing the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals, these robots will also prevent hospitals from getting infections.
2. AI for predicting future pandemics
In an ideal tech world, AI can predict a viral outbreak weeks, if not months in advance. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal tech world, but the good news is that we can work towards forecasting such a system with the help of current technologies.
AI company BlueDot has issued early first warnings, after scrutinizing massive data sets from news, airlines, and animal disease outbreaks. Their algorithim managed to detect a certain trend which Epidemiologists later analyzed further to confirm an outbreak.
But BlueDot is the exception and not the rule, so we must reverse the situation in order to better handle the next public health crisis. Given the massive predictive power that AI brings to the healthcare sector, the proper authorities should utilize its full potential and help in making it more commonplace in hospital settings.
3. Remote care via smartphones
It’s a sad reality that the pandemic kick-started telemedicine for mainstream adoption. Before the crisis, only 1 in 10 US patients used telemedicine services, the number has now increased up to 158% in the same country.
With lockdowns enforced globally, people are utilizing the power of their smartphones for their mental and physical wellbeing. These new digital health technologies greatly reduce the risk of cross infection all while offering patients quality care from the comfort of their own homes
These solutions greatly reduce the risk of cross-infection while offering patients quality care from the comfort of their homes. What’s more, they prove that face-to-face doctor-patient visits are unnecessary. A Global Markets Insights report from April this year, projects that the telemedicine market value will reach $175.5 billion by 2026, indicating the need for remote care in the coming years.
The glaring problem with COVID-19 vaccine deployment
As most of us already know, creating a vaccine is only half the challenge of beating the pandemic. Getting 7 billion people vaccinated is a colossal undertaking, the scale of which has never been seen in history. How will the world manage and sustain COVID-19 vaccine deployment, and ensure equitable access to everyone?
It is not an easy task, and many people in positions of responsibility may have to make some difficult decisions. In short, we will not have enough vaccines for everyone by the end of this year, even if a particular vaccine candidate is deemed adequate.
In a document by the CDC published as a rough skeletal guideline, four categories of people were prioritized with newly produced or procured vaccine doses. This is to strategically use the scarce resources available to minimize the loss of life and maximize equity.
The document classified four categories of people that would receive the vaccine at different times according to a number of factors:
– High risk healthcare workers. First responders
– High risk older adults in congregate or crowded settings
Workers in critical industries and those living in an environment of high risk such as prison.
Young adults and children, and workers of essential industries that were not included in phase 2.
In an Audio Interview “Guidelines for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment”, Eric J. Rubin, M.D., Ph.D. concurred. “We do this in medicine all the time”, he said “in that we plan to treat everybody but those who get sicker are the ones who need the treatment first, while we are scaling up or making any assessment of deploying a treatment”.
This task becomes more difficult in areas were the data on who needs what is scarce. Numerous collectives and institutions however are finding ways to guide their communities using localized data tracking, remote monitoring and some forms of contact tracing. They will be able to identify where and how many people require vaccination, how many vaccines are available for the taking, when more is coming, etc.
Having a clear picture is essential for any major endeavor to succeed, and a type of “communal immunity” can be achieved, to break the back of community transmission” as Rubin put it.
The issue of Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment isn’t when the vaccine is coming, but “who gets it first”. The answer given by the CDC seems to be a good one, from the perspective of the scientist, who have accepted the reality that vaccine equity is no easy task, and hard decisions must be made.
Professional networking amid the pandemic
As the current pandemic lingers on, we see the effects come into full force. The pandemic has changed the way we learn, work and socialize.
The pandemic has had its fair share of effects on professional networking, as most of us are currently stuck at home with limited ways to make new professional connections, top CXOs and junior-mid level professionals are joining committed and specialized platforms to connect and talk with each other online. Some of these platforms include: CoffeMug, Grab Chai, and Lunchclub.
These AI-enabled platforms call themselves “AI Superconnectors” and are the latest trend in professional networking. In essence, they are matchmakers that employ an AI algorithm to set up one-one-one meetings that are based on users’ inserted objectives, interests, and preferred time slots. AI then connects the users on email through a concept known as “warm intros” and sends them through a calendar invite that is usually accompanied by a link for a video call.
Unlike LinkedIn, these professional networking platforms are gated communities, where a user can join only through invites from existing users or by applying on the platform to get registered. Once the person enters, users cannot simply send cold emails to one another to connect. The platform is smarter as you can only meet with one specific profile at a time. This eliminates the problem of spam messages flooding your inbox.
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