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Connectivity will be key to managing and minimising COVID-19 in Africa

Africa is still to feel the full force of coronavirus, but it’s a ticking timebomb. At the time of writing, the continent now has 158,000 cases, with deaths from COVID-19 surpassing the 4,500 mark. But this has surged from around 30,000 cases and 1,00 deaths in late April, highlighting the need for rapid action. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that Africa could see 10 million cases within the next three to six months.

Clearly, it will be vital to impose the same restrictions in Africa as those deployed elsewhere in the world in order to prevent a COVID-19 catastrophe.

Reliable and secure connectivity for managing COVID-19

As we have learnt, testing, monitoring and socially isolating is key to managing and minimising the course of this disease. However, the infrastructure in many parts of Africa presents a challenge, with a significant portion of the population living in remote villages with only basic medical equipment and resources. It means that reliable and secure connectivity will be essential, particularly in the remotest regions, in order to provide accurate testing results, and national and regional statistics.

Consider the journey of a single coronavirus testing sample taken from a suspected patient in a remote village. First, the testing clinic or station – which may be regional serving numerous villages and towns – will require some form of connectivity, whether on a private or public network. Devices will need to be connected to larger clinics in larger metropolitan areas in order for doctors and nurses to be able to send and receive information and data to and from a central administrative centre or database.

Next, COVID-19 samples will need to be securely transferred from the remote clinic to a centre with greater testing resources and laboratory equipment – it’s unlikely that local clinics or testing stations will have the facilities to perform large volumes of antibody and/or antigen tests for the disease.

Logistics comes into play in the COVID-19 testing journey

Once taken, test samples will need to be transported by a vehicle of some kind. In order to prevent tampering or inaccuracies in test samples and results, each vehicle will ideally be connected and tracked across its entire journey from village testing station to central facilities. This requires a public network, and possibly satellite connectivity, either for the vehicle or, ideally, IoT connectivity for individual samples (although this may be unnecessary and/or impractical).

Once the samples have reached the central laboratory or facilities, they need to be tested and diagnosed accurately and the results fed into the databases of health ministries, national laboratories and pharmaceutical companies, for example. This requires end-to-end connectivity for all parties.

The final stage of the COVID-19 testing journey requires communication of the test results and the disease management actions required back to the villages, towns and individuals involved. This may require connectivity at the device level, whether that be a connected printer at the local clinic, or in some cases an individual – as we know mobile phones are now almost universally accessible.

This last step is the key component in controlling and managing the disease, requiring not only the accurate communication of test results, but also the actions needed to stem the spread of the disease.

Private and public connectivity for managing COVID-19 in Africa

Managing the spread of COVID-19 in Africa will require the ability to switch between networks, public and private, in order to ensure that the disease is best managed and minimised in rural regions of Africa. And many organisations are stepping up to the plate.

Already, we have seen pharmaceutical companies, such as the UK’s Mologic, making tests available for use in Africa, a critical component for ‘flattening the curve’ of the disease’s progress.

However, as outlined, in order to ensure consistent and accurate testing and the communication of results and statistics back to individuals – and the actions required – will rely on a robust and reliable connectivity infrastructure. Here at Redmill Communications, we know that one of our partners, Telecom26, is already in talks with healthcare and testing providers to provide that connectivity in Africa.

Telecom26 provides routers and dual SIMs that can switch seamlessly between private and public networks, as well as seek out and switch between the strongest possible public network signals. The work of organisations such as these, and many others, will provide the much-needed resources and technologies needed to minimise the spread of this aggressive disease in Africa – keep up the good work!