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COVID-19 technologies in Rwanda

Mounir Jamil

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COVID-19 technologies in Rwanda

In a recent dialogue with IMF Country Focus, Richard Tusabe, Rwanda’s Minister of State in Charge of National Treasury discusses how COVID-19 technologies in Rwanda such as grass-roots networks are being used to fight the spread of the pandemic and ensure financial support and stability for households and businesses. The following questions were proposed.

How did COVID-19 impact Rwanda, and what sectors have suffered the most?

Most of the impact has been on Rwanda’s services sector, which has been adversely affected by limitations on international travel and social distancing measures. The services sector is projected to grow by only 1 percent in 2020 due to lower trade (imports are expected to fall by 7 percent) and travel. Travel to Rwanda has fallen by 70 percent, which has caused a major impact on the tourism industry.

The agricultural sector has also been impacted further by the already expected decline due to the adverse weather. A reduction in demand spiked by COVID-19 and a drop in international prices of export crops has only worsened the situation. The industrial sector is also expected to slow down due to a drop in demand and delays in foreign direct investment.

COVID-19 technologies in Rwanda such as grassroots networks have been recognised as an innovative way to assist households. How do they work?

In 2000, Rwanda applied the National Decentralization Policy – a people-oriented policy that utilizes grassroots networks and local governments to lessen the shocks on households and alleviate poverty. The household assistance is based on the concept of Ubudehe categorization, an esteemed cultural value of mutual assistance that was also adopted by the government as a poverty reduction tactic. Ubudehe is a socio-economic stratification mechanism that provides support for citizens in lower categories with social protection schemes such as public work, cash transfers, shelter, education, health, and agricultural inputs.

Can you highlight how some of the COVID-19 technologies in Rwanda are aiding in digitization of healthcare institutions and tackling the public health crisis directly?

  • Contact Tracing:  Infections are traced through a paperless Open Data Kit application that can be downloaded on mobile devices.
  • COVID-19 Surveillance: A health facility digital reporting surveillance system is being implemented to monitor influenza-like illnesses and serious respiratory infections in real time to provide an early warning
  • Data Visualization: A Geographic Information System (GIS) is being utilized to monitor pandemic cases at the household level and assess the need for implementing lockdown measures, and monitors at-risk populations

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MedTech

The pandemic’s hidden digital divide

Mounir Jamil

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Digital Divide

The current pandemic has really opened our eyes to the importance of interconnectivity. Lockdowns, curfews, and quarantines helped us realize how our progress and prosperity is a function dependent upon one other, and we can clearly see this on an individual-micro level and on a group-macro level (companies, groups, governments).

The larger the company, the more complex the ecosystem of partners and their interdependence. Studies show that this is particularly true in developing countries where brewing beer sustains millions of livelihoods dependent on a fragmented and traditional trade such as corner shops, grocery stores and small retail.

Naturally, as a company grows larger, a more complex ecosystem of partners is required, but what about smaller micro retailers? The current pandemic has shed light on a critical weakness for small retailers. In most developed countries, the general consensus is that citizens enjoy high speed internet access therefore transitioning a business from brick-and-mortar to online seems relatively straightforward (with some training and practice). However, when we look at other countries where Wi-Fi is not as readily available, or when citizens have to walk lengthy distances to access Wi-Fi, that’s when you understand the daily impact of the digital divide.

As the pandemic continues, access to technology becomes another source of vulnerability and inequality as smaller retailers struggle to make the shift to digital, which only makes it harder for them to deliver across their value chain. Businesses that played vital roles in their communities are now unable to meet the growing demands online.

The pandemic has forced us to face the issue of the digital divide; while some might think we are all moving toward a digitally enabled future, the reality is that there are many communities across the world still falling behind. The issue of what needs to be done rests in the hands of governments and leaders worldwide to ensure that digital inclusion is extended to all citizens and disadvantaged groups.

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MedTech

UK to rollout first-round of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

Mounir Jamil

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Pfizer BioNtech

The British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recently gave the green light to rollout the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for commercial use in the UK.

The first batch of vaccines are already making their way to the UK, with 800,000 units expected in the coming days. Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said that the NHS will do its part in contacting people for the vaccine shot.

Based on vaccine storage requirements (-70°C), hospitals will be the first to receive supplies since they already have the correct storage facilities; the first round will likely take place in hospitals for care home staff, NHS staff and patients.

While the typical vaccine usually takes 10 years to be fully accepted, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was developed and introduced in just 10 months.

The UK has ordered enough units to vaccinate 20 million people – around 40 million doses in total. These doses will be given out as soon as they are made available by Pfizer in Belgium. The first round is expected next week, and “several millions” will be made available throughout December said Hancock. He also added that the majority of the rollout will take place next year.

The vaccine will be free, and it will not be mandatory. In addition, there are 3 ways of vaccinating citizens in the UK

  • Vaccination Centers
  • Hospitals
  • In the community, with general practitioners and pharmacists

As we speak, 50 hospitals are on stand-by and vaccination centers in venues like conference centers or sport stadiums are now being set up. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will hopefully mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

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MedTech

New technology has made COVID-19 group tests possible

Adnan Kayyali

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COVID-19 group tests

An independent technology and product development company, The Technology Partnership (TTP) has developed CoTest, a pooled screening device for conducting COVID-19 group tests. 

The vaccine is coming but when and who will get it first still remains unclear, but what is for sure is that testing cannot stop now, or in the next year at the very least. TTP states that their solution allows tests to be done on up to 40 people at a time, revealing the result within 30 minutes.

The equipment used for testing is reportedly easy to handle – samples are taken the conventional way, through a nasal or oral swab.

“We believe this technology represents an important step forward in distributed screening capacity, reducing the risk of transmission and allowing organizations to take greater control over their health security, stay open and relieve pressure on central services”.

Given the easy use and transportation of the CoTest, businesses and institutions of all kinds may want to get their hands on it. Essentially the COVID-19 group tests are just one test, but for up to 40 people at a time. This is an empowering level of efficiency that can take the load off central testing centers and labs while providing a more immediate response.

“With support, it’s entirely possible that ‘CoTest’ could be in schools and businesses and being used as a key tool in how we manage the virus.” said Peter Crossley, product development lead at TTP. The cost efficiency of this technology becomes increasingly powerful as infection rates decrease and health security monitoring becomes key.”

TTP is seeking more partners to push their new COVID-19 group test solution, which could prove to be a crucial tool in the coming months and years. While the world waits for a vaccine, we will have to continue finding ways of mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

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