Digital innovation in the Covid-19 era

This story is sponsored


While the human race has endured many pandemics in its past, never before have we been so well-equipped to manage and understand them. The unrelenting pace at which our technologies have evolved over the past two decades has given us a toolset that is of unimaginable value, not just in terms of the creation of vaccines and the analysis of the virus’s makeup, but also in the critical social fields that led to its spread. 

Online stores’ extensive infrastructure allow people to safely isolate while still receiving essential goods, and the burgeoning industry of medical technology enables more accurate tracking of the disease and its spread, even tracing the paths that Covid-19 has taken to reach international shores. 

Companies such as Takealot and even delivery entities such as OrderIn and MrD have built their businesses on the premise that their customers would rather shop from home than venture outside. Now, it seems like these core concepts may save lives by minimising contact with others and mitigating the spread of this deadly virus — an unforeseen outcome, but a welcome contribution to the ways in which we can do our part to flatten the curve. 

Professor Alex Broadbent, director of the Institute for the Future of Knowledge and professor of philosophy at the University of Johannesburg. (Daily Motion)
A police officer orders a vendor to leave after stocking fresh produce from a vegetable market in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe on March 31 2020, on the second day of a lockdown directed by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa to curb the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus. (ZINYANGE AUNTONY / AFP)

Significant progress has also been made in the realm of online consultations. Vague, hypochondriac definitions found online in years past are no longer the norm. Instead, we have medical aids working to make telemedicine more accessible, and a variety of applications offering direct video consultations with doctors alongside informative, rational symptom lists.

Babusi Nyoni, the founder of Sila Health, has created an app uniquely suited to the African market: Sis Joyce. It uses a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence to provide intermediate access to basic healthcare — free of charge — through platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, both of which are light on mobile data. In layman’s terms, the app creates automated responses to a user’s questions and while it’s not a medical counsel itself, it’s informed by thorough medical knowledge. 

When asked about the impact of such applications in the context of Covid-19, Nyoni notes that Coronavirus tests are usually not widely available in developing countries. “Our platform provides online assistance to people who believe they may have Coronavirus symptoms, to help keep low-risk patients from clogging up hospitals. We do this by disseminating information on the virus through WhatsApp and Facebook Chat, enabling users to assess their symptoms through our chat-based World Health Organisation (WHO) symptom checker, and collecting geographic and human network information for cases identified as potential positives to assist health departments with contact tracing.” 

Sila Health has already begun working closely with the city of Bulawayo in Zimbabwe to augment its Covid-19 response. HealthAlert, a tool developed by South Africa’s own and used by the government to respond to user queries about Covid-19 in multiple languages, replicates a triage process and provide real-time data insights to decision-makers, has been adopted by the WHO to bring information to two billion people.

Given the priority of flattening the curve, these tools become indispensable, saving valuable resources from being used on those not in need. Most who contract Covid-19 are urged to remain at home in self-isolation to prevent further spread. Not only do online consultations help put minds at ease, but they also stop people from passing the virus on to medical personnel.

Tracking of the disease has been impressively orchestrated, with everyone from large corporations to individual developers creating tools to collate and share critical information with the world. These kinds of unprecedented tools have helped nations such as our own better prepare for the onset and duration of the pandemic, at both personal and governmental levels.

The digitally-driven era in which we find ourselves may be rife with problems of its own, but it provides us with an invaluable ability to cope with a disease such as this. Whether it’s the critical services that allow people to buy medical supplies and other essentials, the tools that let us better understand the disease, or even the simple ability to connect with other people in these times of isolation, there’s no doubt that online technology has provided us with another means of survival.

About Mail & Guardian Sponsored Stories

The Mail & Guardian’s sponsored stories are produced in association with paying partners. We work closely with our partners to ensure all stories meet our standards of editorial quality, and offer information of value to readers.

If you would like to speak to our team, please contact us at this email address.

Related stories

Touching lives through innovation

Africa has a high youth population that adapts to technology quickly, and this phenomenon is something which should be taken advantage of

Festive Reading

In The Whistleblowers, Mandy Wiener talks to a wide range of the people who have revealed corruption and malfeasance in government and business

Centre for Women & Gender Studies

The CWGS aims to resuscitate the histories of African women from all walks of life in an intellectual cleansing/ukuhlambulula of her story

Greening the Future

The awards are a way of encouraging progress and celebrating those who wake up every day and work to make this country a better more sustainable place

National Science and Technology Forum

It's an independent SETI platform, an essential element of an active democracy and an important part of the collaboration process needed in SETI

Milestones over the NSTF’s 25-year history

The organisation celebrates its Silver Jubilee as an established player in the NSI and as promoter and influencer of SET and innovation in South Africa

Today's top stories

Zuma maintains his true colours at Zondo commission

The former president’s escapades at the commission of inquiry into state capture are a far cry from Nelson Mandela’s response when summonsed to testify in the high court

Gordhan tells Zondo how Moyane wanted to advance the objectives...

The public enterprises minister is being cross-examined by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry, as both men seek to defend their reputations

Burundian refugees in Tanzania face increasing danger

Human Rights Watch has documented cases of Burundian refugees being tortured and forcibly returned by Tanzanian authorities

Exclusive: Top-secret testimonies implicate Rwanda’s president in war crimes

Explosive witness testimony from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda implicates Paul Kagame and the RPF in mass killings before, during and after the 1994 genocide.

Shadow of eviction looms over farm dwellers

In part two of a series on the lives of farm dwellers, Tshepiso Mabula ka Ndongeni finds a community haunted by the scourge of eviction

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…