Coronavirus – Africa: The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Partners to launch the Africa Communications Information Platform in response to COVID-19

Coronavirus – Africa: The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Partners to launch the Africa Communications Information Platform in response to COVID-19

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, June 29, 2020/ — Africa is about to roll out a groundbreaking mobile based public communications platform to provide more than 600 million users across the continent with the latest public health advice. The Africa Communications Information  Platform will also furnish national and regional COVID task forces with user generated survey data and actionable health and economic insights. By improving national data and statistics, ACIP will enable authorities to better analyze pandemic related problems and implement appropriate responses. The platform will also allow COVID-taskforces to deploy health and economic resources to mitigate the pandemic’s impact.

The Platform will be launched at an online event hosted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa on June 23 at 1400 EAT (East Africa Time/GMT+3) (https://un.interpret.world/loginlink?token=S-UNECA-ACIP-meet ).

Robust and easy to use, the platform uses a mixture of text and voice operated menus. The free to use service was developed by the UN Economic Commission for Africa -in collaboration with 4 major mobile network operators and a data integrator. The platform harnesses mobile narrowband channels using a combination of text (USSD) and voice interactions (IVR).  On the broadband side, the platform uses public data from digital channels, including online and social media. By using mobile narrowband and broadband, the platform can reach 3G/smartphone users and mobile subscribers with earlier generation 2G handsets, also known as feature phones.

The rollout of Phase One starting June 23 2020, will cover mobile users across more than 23 countries, representing more than 80% of Africa’s total mobile subscribers. Users will be able to access locally relevant health advisories and medical advice including  a symptom checker. Anonymized user inputs- including survey responses- will be fed to an Artificial Intelligence driven system. This integrator will build data dashboards and actionable insights for national and regional level policy makers. These may include identification of emerging virus hotspots and shifts in public sentiment (via survey data and social listening). The integrator can also provide smart alerts for anomalies detected by the AI. It should be stressed that all information is for use at the national authority level- national COVID task forces, ministries of health and finance. Furthermore, national authorities retain control over data provided by their own users and decide what information is made available to their national users.

This is the first time a mobile USSD platform has been interactively paired with big data AI to yield insights which neither alone could achieve.

Under Phase Two in a few months’ time, the service will encompass an additional 20 percent of African mobile users- and expand to include economic and humanitarian focused communication. National authorities will be able to conduct community level messaging for social welfare, e.g. facilitate cash distribution (including e-payments); send targeted information on local food distribution or clean water provision. When data reveals emerging virus hotspots, authorities could direct medical resources to the affected areas and alert local inhabitants to their availability.

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