COVID-19 Will Speed Up The Adoption Of Digital Technologies In Africa

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BY: Femi Agbedejobi [Founder/Executive Director,Africa Digital Economy and Technology Academy]
It is quite certain that the world will not remain the same after covid 19. This pandemic is teaching the world many lessons, one of which is the urgency of the need to adopt digital technology and to explore the opportunities of the virtual space.

Africa needs to urgently embrace digital technology to fast track economic integration and reduce physical contacts in most of our social and economic interactions and also to guard against future pandemic.

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus across the globe has reminded us that the world indeed is a village and we are all interconnected in terms of our health, business and well-being.

Post-Covid 19 economy will render several jobs redundant. But it will also create many new ones. It would create huge demand for online training courses on how to use online portals to provide services to clients and create huge platforms for religious programs,  medical and education related services.

In many countries, virtual classrooms can be expanded without concerns of physical space for large number of students. Online classrooms can be further broken into smaller groups of students with trained teachers who can facilitate online discussions. Access to online education would give opportunities to large number of students who previously could not get admitted due to inadequate space and lack of facilities.

Technology can also be effectively used to reduce mass gatherings in mosques, churches and theatres if the conductors live-stream their services and programs. Arrangements can also be made to provide one-on-one counselling services to their members and clients online.

The foremost lesson is how to better prepare for the next pandemic. Weeks before the outbreak this pandemic in China, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the World Economic Forum (WEF) conducted a high-level simulation exercise for pandemic preparedness, ‘Event 201’ on October 18, 2019.

They found that governments, businesses and public health leaders were all woefully unprepared.

Covid-19 has revealed the need to devote resources for future epidemic prevention, and create cost-benefit models to evaluate the timing and various types of shutdowns to save lives without excessive economic disruption.

Nurses, doctors, and social workers, the frontline fighters in the battle, have the highest risk of exposure to the virus and have suffered high fatality. In the post-Covid world, countries need to create healthcare systems that protect and insulate health workers in foolproof ways.

Telemedicine and virtual medicine have been used to a limited extent in many western countries. These need to become universal, used even in the poorest countries that can least afford to suffer a loss of medical staff in the next epidemic.

From United States to Brazil, from London to Lagos and from Cairo to Cape Town the shutdown has cleaned the air of pollutants, reducing respiratory diseases too. We must not go back to our old polluted ways when the shutdowns end.

We now know that traffic pollution and congestion can be greatly reduced through work-at-home strategies, and the use of technologies to hold virtual meetings where the participants can be hundreds of miles apart.

Housemaids, construction workers, bus drivers and many other categories of workers cannot function online. But professionals can. New technologies should be developed to enable manual workers to work with equipment that allows social distancing.

Digital technologies will also provide effective means of monitoring workflows. Two-way camera systems will make it possible to monitor the performance of workers and detect absenteeism, sluggishness and other activities that impede progress of work.

Although travel restrictions have been applied globally in response to COVID-19, the World Health Organization has counseled against broad restrictions that fuel fear, impede effective transfer of medical personnel and supplies, and almost always come too late to contain the spread of the disease.

But the lessons these pandemics have taught appear to be having some good impact. As governments proceed to pursue social distancing and lockdown measures, we urgently call for the development and communication of exit plans, increased testing to inform planning, and a rethink of global supply chains of critical items such as ventilation equipment.

It appears that the world has learned a few things from the ongoing fight against the coronavirus epidemic in China and beyond. And not from the medical point of view alone, but also in terms of the socio-economic, political and international aspects of this unprecedented epidemic that has caused massive upheavals and market panic that threatens to become a “new reality.”

The fight against the epidemic is already creating a “new reality” and, surprisingly, this is not always bad. Because of the coronavirus epidemic, all of China’s schools and universities have switched to online education in one of the world’s largest educational experiments, with an estimated 170 million schoolchildren and students studying remotely. This practice will come in handy also under normal circumstances, and not only in China.

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