The recent launch of the Africa Communication and Information Platform for Health and Economic Action (ACIP) means national and regional COVID task forces can now access user-generated survey data and actionable health and economic insights that will enable authorities to better analyse pandemic-related problems and implement appropriate responses. 

The technology can be used on any handset and on any device and the platform presents a very simple menu to users and enables the collection of important information that policymakers can use to identify where the issues and hotspots are.

Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), explained, “With this platform, we have the possibility of reaching between 600 and 800 million mobile subscribers in Africa.” ACIP is a mobile-based tool for two-way information and communication between citizens and governments. Thirty-six African member states are already part of the initiative. The platform will also allow COVID-taskforces to deploy health and economic resources to mitigate the pandemic’s impact.

While the ECA is working with key stakeholders to solve the problem of internet access, reliability, and cost, the ACIP can already reach over 80% 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,” said Robert Shuter, CEO of MTN. He added that the uniqueness of the ACIP initiative got MTN and its “competitors to agree that this was an area for collaboration and cooperation.”

President Alpha Condé of Guinea pledged to “make sure that all 55 AU member states are part of this initiative.” He said the uncertainties around COVID-19 make a strong case for Africa to speedily embrace the fourth industrial revolution, ensuring better internet access and affordability.

In the virtual launch Africa’s youth were called to help design artificial intelligence 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 our continent.

Among other stakeholders, ITU, Smart Africa, the African Union, the World Bank, WHO, MTN, Orange, Safaricom, Vodacom and Airtel all contributed to the project.

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