Africa's public-private approach to tech bolsters fight against COVID

The pandemic has fueled digital transformation in Africa and sparked fresh thinking about how to use strategic public-private partnerships to achieve broad societal goals including healthcare and healthy markets.

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A combination of legacy and emerging technology, along with public-private partnerships, has been a major force in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic throughout sub-Saharan Africa, say a wide range of IT leaders and government officials.

The pace of technology innovation throughout Africa is often hampered by infrastructure issues, as well as financial and bureaucratic constraints. But reaction to the pandemic in Africa shows that when faced with a massive disruptive event, like a global pandemic, there is a drive to overcome these stumbling blocks and a renewed vigour to put new technologies to the test, particularly for healthcare, according to a number of industry, government speakers at AfricaCom earlier this month.

Countries across Africa have been particularly strategic about combining the "old" with the new, according to Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, deputy director at Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

For example, the Africa CDC decided to partner with rural community health workers who have been in place on the ground for some time, and are now equipped with mobile technologies including apps that enable collection of information locally, in real time. "When you combine what people know with new tools, you can gather information quickly, analyse it and then adjust your response to achieve better results," Ouma said at the recent Africom conference — the biggest tech event on the continent, this year taking place virtually.

The pandemic has made digital transformation in Africa a necessity, said Deemah Alyahya, a digital economy and innovation advisor and the founder and CEO of Women Spark, an angel VC investment network. This has had a positive impact on many small and medium-size businesses that were launched and built with digital business models, Alyahya said. One result of the pandemic has been increased use of cloud and e-commerce platforms such as home-delivery services.

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