The Africa Communication and Information Platform (ACIP) for Health and Economic Action was launched last week by the UN’s ECA (Economic Commission for Africa) in collaboration with local operator partners.
The platform is aimed at enabling communication between mobile users and national authorities to help stem the spread of Covid-19. It is launching in 36 African markets and will extend further as more authorities sign up to the initiative.
The platform will collate data submitted by over 600 million users, collecting health information and helping governments to identify any outbreaks of Covid-19. Additionally, it will offer health guidance to users.
To understand the platform’s mission, we spoke to Oliver Chinganya, a Director of the African Centre for Statistics at the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
“We needed to develop a mechanism on how we could respond to Covid, and realised that a lot of our citizens didn’t have a way of receiving information about it”, he explains. “We reached out to telecommunications companies such as Orange, MTN and Airtel, to see how they could help citizens by providing a service for free.”
Chinganya explained that the launch required extensive coordination with national governments due to the unprecedented size of the dataset involved. The content is submitted via widely used services such as SMS and Facebook, and is used by Covid response teams to make informed decisions based on requirements.
He noted that the data was processed and owned by the countries themselves, acknowledging that there were privacy and security concerns over how data was stored and accessed but that regulations had been developed in response to this around keeping data anonymous by creating digital IDs.
Along with Airtel, MTN and Orange, other companies and organisations are involved in the initiative, including the African Union, Safaricom, Smart Africa, the World Bank, and the World Health Organisation.
The operator partners have agreed to deliver the platform free of charge, with MTN CEO Rob Shuter noting that “chances are that many people battling the pandemic in some rural areas may not have airtime” and that battling Covid was “an area for collaboration and cooperation.”
Chinganya concurred, praising the efforts of operators: “Mobile companies have agreed to provide a service for free because they realise that the majority of the people who they can reach do not have the resources to buy anything on top of their bundles, and the only solution is to provide this for free.”