The African story is a story of many stories, all emboldened by the lives of the more than a billion souls stumping the African dust because there is a danger in telling a single story. The African story is not a stationary construct, but rather it is a shifting construct in the face of global movements. The African story is a balance between the towering skyscraper and the bush. The African story is not only found in the text books or oral history of our ancestors, but it is the responsibility of every African to trace the African story in their souls! One of the most exciting tales in the African anthology is the technological events that run across the continent, more specifically how it is being leveraged towards health.
Technology and Health:
Yes, Africa has been plagued by several negative events, but technology is providing African-based solutions. For instance, technology is being used to fight the ferocious Ebola virus hitting West Africa and has made several attempts to spread internationally. The virus has captured the attention of many large corporations in the ICT sector. Companies like Samsung Electronics, MTN, Econet, Liquid Telecom, SES, IBM, Airtel, and LG have made meaningful and impactful responses to curtail the virus. The virus is becoming a top priority for ICT within the confines of the continent. MTN recently invited the 219 million customers all across African and the Middle-East to come in league in a 3-month campaign, which began on December 1 2014 to raise funds under the initiative “United against Ebola”. Word from MTN is that it has committed 10 million dollars and is calling on its customers using the SMS platform to donate $1US. This is in addition to collaborating with African-based musicians to produce an inspirational song that will feature on the MTN Play Store-the proceeds therewith will be donated to the AU campaign. MTN has been an integral part in the efforts of fighting the Ebola virus from spreading, especially in the countries where it operates. SES has gone on to incept an educational channel that focuses on Ebola broadcasted d via satellite in West Africa.
It aims at informing people in hotspot areas about the nature and dangers of the disease. It was realized that many people did not understand the disease therefore did not seek the medi-care they needed. Shifting over here to East Africa, we have Liquid Telecom over at Rwanda which took the liberty of donating 250,000USD to the ministry of health towards boosting efforts in prevention. It is expected to supplement the government’s prevention plans through medical, social prevention, and mobilization campaigns for awareness and effective response. And now we are in Zimbabwe, where Econet has set up an Ebola Response Task Force made up of doctors as well as specialists who report to a working party essentially dealing in similar efforts in Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, and Lesotho, countries in which Econet operates.
Studying the bigger picture in the fight against Ebola is Airtel, IBM Research Africa and Kenya’s Echo Mobile and consequently joined hands to create a variety of initiatives geared toward battle with the disease, which include:
-A Global platform for sharing Ebola-related data.
-A donation of IBM Connections Technology in Nigeria to bolster the Lagos State Authority in future preparedness against outbreaks.
-An Analytics and Citizen Engagement system in Sierra Leone that enables communities affected by Ebola to communicate their issues and concerns directly to the government, well that’s amazing! Not to mention that these efforts are ameliorated by IBM’s global network of research labs and the company’s long-standing commitment and experience in managing human disasters by applying data analytics, mobile technology, and cloud computing to help governments and relief agencies as they seek to fight the grim malady. Samsung Electronics revealed in October 2014 that it will be donating 3000 smartphones worth about $1million dollars to support the ongoing war against Ebola. The donated smartphones have gone through the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs will be used in the Humanitarian Connectivity Project, which is the UN’s IT program that utilizes mobile technology to offer humanitarian support in disaster areas. LG has donated 2000 smartphones towards the same end.
According to LG, the phones will be going to healthcare and other vital personnel who have been deployed to affected areas. They will allow for communication between onsite teams focusing on medical data gathering, monitoring and planning. Researchers are looking to Nigeria for technology to suppress the looming threat. After cases showing up in Spain, researchers are considering Nigeria’s utilization of twenty-first technology to study how Africa’s most populous country was able to contain the virus-three cheers for Nigeria! Bravissima! Nigeria used technology as a key critical and proactive tool in helping to curb the spread of the virus. Well, here is how they did it- a group of health workers effectively armed themselves with mobile phones and an android application that reduced their reporting time, which normally takes up to 12 hrs. The reporting time was cut by 50% before being reduced to zero. These phones and the app that made all this possible were provided by eHealth and information systems Nigeria, a Santa-Ana, California-based non-profit research center that operates in the Northern Nigerian city of Kano. Social media featured heavily, too in the information-blitz campaigns. Google’s Nigerian outfit organized training sessions for journalists on how to use Google Trends in identifying top queries the public had regarding the disease. Nigeria was very organized. Facebook’s internet.org app is also making headway in fighting the disease by enabling users of the app to access critical information with regard to the virus and is currently available in most parts of Africa, including Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania. The Ebola app was developed by Praekelt Foundation in South Africa on behalf of UNICEF.
No matter how you look at it, technology is a big part of the African story and will continue to be so even in the coming years. This is technology being localized for the African situation and opening up possibilities for more creative avenues for technology to explore in Africa.