Africa’s telecom giants MTN, Vodacom, Airtel and Orange have thrown their weight behind the newly launched digital health platform designed to reach more than 600 million mobile phone users across the continent.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) is behind the Africa Communication and Information Platform (ACIP) for Health and Economic Action, which aims to mitigate the health and economic impact of COVID-19.
The UN agency describes the platform, which was launched on 23 June 2020, as two-way communication between citizens and health authorities, adding that it has the potential to reach 80% of Africa’s mobile users.
The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Vera Songwe highlighted the high cost of Internet access in Africa, noting that COVID-19 has made it even more difficult for people to afford it.
MTN Group CEO Rob Shuter said operators had agreed to waive charges for the service, acknowledging that many people facing the COVID-19 pandemic in some rural areas of Africa lack airtime.
“Chances are that many people battling the pandemic in some rural areas may not have airtime,” Mr. Shuter said, adding that the uniqueness of the initiative got MTN and its competitors “to agree that this was an area for collaboration and co-operation.”
The technology, which is user-friendly and can be used on any handset or device, has not only won the backing of MTN, Airtel, Orange, Ethio Telecom, Safaricom, Vodacom and other telecoms, but also regional and world bodies including the African Union, World Bank, and World Health Organisation (WHO).
In remarks made at the launch of the initiative, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General Houlin Zhao urged regulators and ICT ministers in Africa to support the platform, which he said: “will enable governments, ministries and COVID-19 task forces to better use digitally available and mobile-generated data in decision-making on key issues regarding health, economic livelihoods and food security.”
Noting that machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data are at the core of the platform, Mr. Zhao observed that emerging technologies such as AI, cloud computing and 5G, among others, are powerful tools that can be leveraged to tackle Africa’s most pressing challenges, including COVID-19.
The mobile-based communication platform seeks to generate intelligent information and analysis of data, including surveys to measure public health interventions, physical distancing adherence and socio-economic effects of COVID-19 response.
One of its primary use cases is to collect health information from individuals to help the authorities in detecting disease outbreaks.
Initially, the Africa Communication and Information Platform (ACIP) will be available in 36 countries including Uganda, but plans are underway to extend it further as more authorities sign up.