Africa’s biggest mobile operators have pulled together for the first time, to launch a two-way health and economic Big Data analytics platform that seeks to link upto 800 million citizens in the continent with their governments.
Safaricom, MTN, Vodacom, Airtel and Orange will work together to implement the Africa Communication and Information Platform (ACIP) for Health and Economic Action initiative that will rely on Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyse a combination of online digital data, as well as mobile based information.
The innovation will further provide the United Nations Ecocnomic Commision for Africa (ECA), Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), all national Covid-19 taskforces in the 54 states, Ministries of Health, and Ministries of Finance, Economy, and Planning, and other stakeholders with analysis of live data for decision-making, monitoring and evaluation.
It will also allow for real-time data insights, improve linkage of government and research centers with citizens, and assist in analysing the broader socio-economic situation of populations, and identification and targeting of policies.
“With this platform, we have the possibility of reaching between 600 million and 800 million mobile subscribers in Africa,” said Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary ECA, during the virtual launch of ACIP.
The solution furnishes national disease task forces with user-generated survey data and actionable health and economic insights that will enable authorities to better analyze pandemic-related problems and implement appropriate responses.
Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC said the platform offers a “unique opportunity to change the way we conduct disease surveillance, enhance our ability to acquire good and timely data, and make all Africans count.”
The launch was presided over by President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo who lauded the initiative. “It responds to member states’ requests for assistance in collecting and processing essential data to respond effectively to Covid-19,” he noted.
President Alpha Condé of Guinea pledged to make sure that all 55 AU member states are part of the initiative. “The uncertainties around Covid-19 make a strong case for Africa to speedily embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ensuring better internet access and affordability.”
Ms Songwe deplored the state and high cost of internet access in Africa stating that in an era of pandemic and economic crisis, it has become more difficult for people to spend the little resources they have to pay for internet access.
While ECA is working with key stakeholders to solve the problem of internet access, reliability, and cost, the ACIP can already reach over 80 percent of Africa’s mobile users without adding the burden of cost on them.
“We, as operators, can waive the charges for USSD because chances are that many people battling the pandemic in some rural areas may not have airtime.”Robert Shuter, chief executive of MTN
He said the uniqueness of the ACIP initiative got MTN and its competitors to agree that it needed collaboration and cooperation. Mr Shuter said the technology can be used on any handset and on any device.
“The platform presents a very simple menu to users and enables us to collect very important information that policymakers can use to identify where the issues and hotspots are,” he said.
The launch was also attended by African ministers in charge of ICT who urged stakeholders to ensure that there were synergies between the ACIP and efforts being made in the area of digital technology to combat the virus at national levels.
Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Houlin Zhao, called on African regulators and ICT ministers to back the new platform.
“Artificial Intelligence and Big Data are at the heart of the ACIP and the support of telecommunication regulators from each country is absolutely needed,” he stated.
36 African member states are already part of the initiative and are using it to deploy health and economic resources to mitigate the pandemic’s impact. Boutheina Guermazi who heads the World Bank’s Digital Development Global Practice said she was heartened to see the speed with which Africa reacted to create this platform, bringing together major stakeholders on the continent to take advantage of mobile Big Data analytics.
“We know that accurate and up-to-date information on aggregated anonymised mobility patterns could clearly be used for monitoring, predicting outbreaks, and planning future activities,” she said.
Lacina Kone, CEO of Smart Africa described the ACIP as one of the digital initiatives that will transform Africa. He praised the ECA for its role in bringing together Africa’s major mobile operators, regulators, and governments on a single platform.
“The year 2020 should be a year we embrace and accelerate collaboration through digital transformation. It should go down in history as a technological, health and economic turning point for Africa,” said Mr Kone.
Ms Songwe urged Africa’s youth to embrace the initiative to design AI systems and platforms that can be curated to get better data and help identify and ensure that the informal sector becomes part and parcel of an active economic tissue of the continent.