Africa in joint digital plan to curb import of Covid-19

Thursday August 6 2020


The African Union (AU) in collaboration with private sector partners has launched a digital platform that will perform bio-screening and tracing of contacts across borders. FILE PHOTO  

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As African airlines get back to international skies this month for the first time since March, their commitment towards minimising the possibility of an upsurge in Covid-19 infections will be critical.

To help manage the uncertainty among passengers about the safety of international flights, the African Union (AU) in collaboration with private sector partners has launched a digital platform that will perform bio-screening and tracing of contacts across borders.

Dubbed PanaBIOS, the application, which can be downloaded from Google PlayStore, is already being utilised in Ghana, where it’s being piloted, to manage congestion in workplaces and other high-risk locations while enabling digitising cross-border travel health clearance to suppress disease importation and transmission.

The platform was launched on July 29 by a consortium under the AU's Open Corridors Program with support from Pan-African Institutions such as the African Economic Zones Organisation, AfroChampions, the AU Department of Trade and Industry, Koldchain and national government initiatives, with the Ghanaian government's Trancop programme leading the way.

Presidential advisor on health in Ghana Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare said their government began piloting the use of the application in June.

"The government took a decision for strategic targeted testing. We started with schools and churches. We have to reopen and to do that we need a system where we can get real-time data at the borders and inside airports,” he said.


"I am sure every country will like it because nobody wants importation of the disease. All cases in Africa were imported and if we are not careful, this easing of businesses could lead to more importation of the virus into Africa."

The technology has the capacity to monitor and model the congestion, thereby mapping how the virus is spreading.

"In so doing PanaBIOS alerts people who have been exposed to an infected person and advise them to get tested. It allows users to access test results and gives them certificates to allow cross-border travel," Dr. Nsiah-Asare said.

The technology is free for use by all African countries. Kenya, an active member of the AU, stands to benefit from the solution, which is the first reference model of the AU's Digital Bio-surveillance, Bio-screening and Bio-sensing Protocol (DABBIT).

However, according to Prof Patrick Lumumba, Kenya needs to understand it first before implementing it.

"We need to see the application and comprehend how it works," he told Digital Business.

But the use of Big Data in making health decisions has been effectively used by developed countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and Israel, leading to resumption of businesses, as digital solutions keep monitoring the Covid-19 situation in those countries.

Timothy Oriedo, Kenya's renowned data scientist and founder of Predictive Analytics Lab, is optimistic that the use of live data to trace contacts could help control any rise in new infections.

"Contact monitoring can be used in tracking social behaviour mobility and the movement of persons from one region to another. It can also control community interactions, especially those who use public Wi-Fi hotspots,” he said.

“Telling them there is an infected person in their amidst could inspire social change. Through alerts to such people, this can be a preventative measure towards containing the virus."

Whenever big data analytics and crowd-level insights come to play, decision makers are always interested in a large number of people, but many of them do not own a smartphone with an embedded GPS.