Innovations have made a “huge difference” in Africa’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, as entrepreneurs step in to fill gaps in health systems and keep economies moving, according to experts.
Since the first infection was recorded in Nigeria at the end of February, entrepreneurs have developed tools ranging from contact-tracing apps in Kenya and Ghana to WhatsApp chatbots in South Africa and self-diagnostic tools in Angola.
More than 120 new health technologies were recorded this year by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Africa, according to a report published earlier this month.
“We realise these innovations have made a huge difference. We are fighting Covid-19 in the context of weak health systems,” Moredreck Chibi, WHO’s regional innovation adviser for Africa told the Telegraph. “Governments, besides locking down early, had limited options to leverage other than innovation to address the pandemic.”
Initial fears of the virus tearing through health systems and crowded megacities to kill millions have not materialised. The continent has recorded more than 1.8 million cases and 45,000 deaths, for a population of over one billion. The UK, with a population of 67 million, has recorded a similar death toll.
Many African countries went into lockdown early on in the pandemic and have introduced prevention measures to curb spread after economic concerns forced them to open back up. Working alongside health authorities, start-ups and developers, as well as more established companies, have seized the opportunity to help, using technology and shifting their business models to adapt to a new normal.
In Nigeria, health investment company Flying Doctors set up mobile Covid-testing booths, which separate the sample collector from the people being tested. These have boosted testing while protecting health workers, a scarce resource in the country.