African research labs, innovation hubs and venture capital firms are putting money on the table to support solutions targeted at better handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Senegal, a collaboration between Institut Pasteur de Dakar, a Dakar-based research lab and a UK company could produce a $1 test that carries out a coronavirus test in 10 minutes. The kit will be manufactured in Senegal and, should the outbreak persist when it will be ready in June, will cut down the time required to diagnose the virus.

At least two African innovation hubs have keyed into the moment by creating a tech challenge to address coronavirus.

Kola Aina, the co-founder of Africa-focused venture firm Ventures Platform, has called on “all Nigerian Hackers, developers, enthusiasts & founders” to support efforts by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) to respond to the pandemic.

Aina was responding to a call by Idris Bello, founder of Wennovation hub, an innovation accelerator based in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.

Two days earlier, Co-creation Hub announced that it was offering “funding and design support for teams working on projects to address problems/needs related to the Coronavirus outbreak.”

CcHub will offer support via its Kigali-based Design Lab. Prospective projects can be focused on “a particular African country, the African continent or the world at large,” the company said.

They are offering between $5,000 and $100,000 funding blocks for COVID-19 related solutions, according to TechCrunch.

The immediate motivation for these initiatives is to respond to the urgent need for coronavirus containment. There are over 480 cases across 33 African countries. The vice president of Burkina Faso’s parliament has become the first casualty in Sub Saharan Africa, raising the need for concerted attention.

On a broader note, it creates an awareness that tech should be channeled towards identifying and solving societal problems.

Major Africa funding reports indicate fintech demands the most interest from investors. Payments, wealth management, and micro-investing are booming sectors.

But COVID-19 reminds everyone that public health is an especially crucial aspect of life that should get more attention.

As CcHub’s announcement notes, the virus is a global affliction that bears heavily on economic activity.

In South Africa, shares have plummeted as a consequence of shrinkages in US and European stock markets. Oil prices have also suffered, tanking projections for economic recovery in Nigeria. In a real sense, the techie building a COVID-19 containment solution is also building an insurance service to protect local and global economies.

Ventures Platforms is offering to provide workspace, mentorship and $1,000 in grant for the first 5 projects approved by the NCDC. Interested applicants are required to explain the impact of the proposed solution on the pandemic and how fast said solution can be deployed.

As TechCabal has previously reported, the NCDC’s system for containing coronavirus relies on what had been in place for responding to previous diseases like Lassa fever. At the core of its operation is the identification of cases at ports of entry. Subsequently, the commission undertakes contact tracing for every case identified.

At the moment, contact tracing is a digitized process carried out across the country via SORMAS, an open source ehealth system developed internationally for public health emergencies.

SORMAS is “excellent for enabling NCDC [to] collect live data from the field across the country,” Paddy Anigbo, a Lagos-based technology entrepreneur whose company advises businesses on enterprise solutions, tells TechCabal.

The commission has invested in Office 365 Suites which enable central communication and data information, and also uses Power BI for analysing large disparate data collections, Anigbo says.

Obviously, it would be of no use to duplicate what the commission already has.

But beyond solutions for the NCDC and government agencies, there is room for much more to be done to assuage the publics’ fears about the virus. Promising to make its resources available to interested persons, CcHub calls for projects around public education, support for the infected, production of medical supplies and support for local food value chains.

Nigeria now has 8 confirmed cases and the government has banned travel from 13 countries. As awareness and panic grows, informational systems are needed on test centers by location. Nigerians want to know what to do when a neighbour starts coughing or fails to come out of their houses for consecutive days.

People with pre-existing medical conditions who may be shut off from their doctors and medical facilities will need avenues for finding their prescriptions and getting emergency relief when necessary.

Personal hygiene is another area where regular digital information can help. People in self-isolation would want regular, personalized tips on how to stay healthy.

Tech will not cure Africa’s coronavirus outbreak, yet. Africa needs well-paid doctors and robust public health systems capable of responding to emergencies and global shocks.

But for the moment, apps and digital features that fulfill needs during the present pandemic can set off a chain of future interest in health technology. That would be a welcome, if unintended, gain.

Alexander Onukwue Author

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