Even as the world races against time to beat coronavirus and save lives, Africa’s tech ecosystem is uniting in the fights against COVID-19.
From startup founders, venture capitalists to tech giants and banks, all are coming together in unusual ways to help find quick and scalable solutions.
Finding solutions to coronavirus crisis
Ideas that are quickly actionable and scalable in the areas of prevention of the spread of COVID-19, scaling of testing for the virus, support to healthcare workers and critically-ill patients are being considered for funding under various initiatives in Africa.
For example, Cape Town based startup Zindi—that uses AI and machine learning to tackle complex problems—has launched a challenge in partnership with AI4D. It has called for scientists to develop models that can predict the global spread of COVID-19 by April 19. Shortlisted solutions will be evaluated against future numbers and the winner will receive $5000.
Zindi also announced it will sponsor a hackathon later this month to find solutions to COVID-19 related problems.
CcHub, Africa’s largest incubator, is also offering funding and engineering support to tech projects focused on combating the social and economic impacts of coronavirus. CcHub said it is accepting applications from companies tackling related problems. The organisation will provide up to $100, 000 in funding support.
Digital payments providers make bold moves
Even the fintech community is rising to the occasion by providing their services without a fee.
Safaricom, Kenya’s largest telecom, implemented a fee-waiver on M-Pesa transactions in order to reduce the risk of spreading the virus through the cash. Safaricom acted following a directive by the government seeking to minimize the physical exchange of currency. The move will see all fees for person-to-person transactions under Ksh1000 waivered for three months.
Kenya is the leader in the digital payment adoption in Africa—largely due to the dominance of M-Pesa in the country.
In Ghana, the central bank of Ghana announced a set of measures aimed at facilitating increased use of mobile money transactions instead of cash. The bank directed mobile money providers to waive fees on transactions of GH₵100 and put restrictions on cash withdrawals from mobile-wallets.
Further, it removed some restrictions on KYC requirements so that citizens can use existing mobile phone registrations to open accounts with digital payment services.
In South Africa, Yoco has taken a similar initiative to curb the spread of coronavirus. The small-business payments startup is encouraging clients to use contactless payment option at its point of sales. Yoco has also accelerated the development of its remote payment gateway in order to facilitate weblink transfers.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, digital payments startup Paga announced it will be making fee adjustments, allowing merchants to accept payments from customers for free. The company said that the measure is “aimed to slow the spread of the coronavirus by reducing cash handling in Nigeria”.
Tunisia deploying robot to enforce lockdown
In another interesting development, a police robot has been deployed in Tunisia to ensure that people are observing coronavirus lockdown. Called PGuard, the Tunisian-built surveillance robot can stop anyone walking on the street and asks them why they are out. They must then show their ID and other papers to the robot’s camera, so officers controlling it can check them.
The robot’s manufacturer, Enova Robotics said the police robot can help minimize physical contact between police and people.
With nearly 8000 confirmed cases across the continent, Africa has not been hit as hard as other places. But there are fears that if and when COVID-19 takes hold, it be catastrophic. Initiatives such as these and many others will be essential in saving lives.
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