As African airlines get back to international skies this month for the first time since March, their commitment towards minimizing the possibility of an upsurge in Covid-19 infections will be critical in jump starting the air travel business.
To help manage the uncertainty among passengers about the health safety of international flights, the African Union (AU) in collaboration with private sector partners has launched a digital platform that will perform bio-screening and tracing of contacts across borders.
Dubbed PanaBIOS, the application, which can be downloaded from Google Playstore, is already being utilized in Ghana to manage congestion in workplaces and other high-risk locations while enabling digitizing cross—border travel health clearance to suppress disease importation and transmission.
It was launched on July 29 by a consortium under the AU’s Open Corridors Program with support from Pan-African Institutions like the African Economic Zones Organisation, AfroChampions, the AU Department of Trade and Industry, Koldchain and national government initiatives, with the Ghanaian government’s Trancop program leading the way.
Presidential Advisor on Health in Ghana Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare said the Ghanaian government began piloting the use of the application in June.
“The government took a decision for strategic targeted testing. We started with schools and churches. We have to reopen and to do that we need a system where we can get real-time data at the borders and inside airports.
“Am sure every country will like it because nobody wants importation of the disease. All cases in Africa were imported and if we are not careful, this easing of businesses could lead to more importation of the virus into Africa,” he said.
The technology has the capacity to monitor and model population congestion, thereby mapping how the virus is spreading.
“In so doing PanaBIOS alerts people who have been exposed to an infected person and advise them to get tested. It allows users to access test results and gives them certificates to allow cross-border travel.” The technology is free for use by all African countries.
Kenya, an active member of the AU, stands to benefit from the solution, which is the first reference model of the AU’s Digital Bio-surveillance, Bio-screening and Bio-sensing Protocol (DABBIT).
However, according to keynote speaker on AU matters Prof Patrick Lumumba, Kenya needs to understand it first before thinking of any implementation.
“We need to see the application and comprehend how it works,” he told the Nation.
But the use of Big Data in health data in decisioning has been effectively used by developed countries such as Germany, United Kingdom and Israel, leading to resumption of businesses, as digital solutions keep monitoring the Covid-19 situation in those countries.
Timothy Oriedo, Kenya’s renowned data scientist and founder of Predictive Analytics Lab is optimistic that the use of live data to trace contacts could help control any rise in new infections.
“Contact monitoring can be used in tracking social behavior mobility and the movement of persons from one region to another. It can also control community interactions, especially those who use public Wi-Fi hotspots. Telling them there is an infected person in their amidst could inspire social change.
“Through alerts to such people, this can be a preventative measure towards containing the virus,” he told this writer.
Whenever big data analytics and crowd-level insights come to play, decision makers are always interested in a large number of people, but many of them do not own a smartphone with an embedded GPS.
By collaborating with telcos, the solution can serve even those who use feature phones that cannot support the app.
The accuracy of this method, experts say, is related to the density of cell tower since there are more towers in the cities and fewer in rural areas.
“While GPS has an accuracy of less than 5 meters, in the case of network-based positioning we are talking about hundreds of meters and even more in rural areas.
“As for tools, the next step should be to build a method or pipeline for accessing and aggregating these secondary supporting data points that the mobile operators use for their service provision,” says James Claude, CEO of Global Voice Group.
But in implementing such a program, Mr Oriedo points out, organisations involved must protect the data privacy of the persons being monitored.
“Respective partners must adhere to the Kenya Data Protection law, by giving priority to data consent and avoiding data sharing for commercial use,” he asserted.
Mr Claude expounds that the access to mobility data is crucial for governments and decision-makers, since it can help in the predictive analysis on mobility trends, for an ample range of purposes.
“Mobile data provides actionable information through population mobility insights. When we make a call or send a message, the mobile phone constantly exchanges a lot of technical information with the Mobile Network Operators’ cell towers and other core systems. One of the parameters the network knows about the mobile phone is its location.
“When a mobile phone moves around, the area changes and we can say with certainty that this phone is no longer stationary, but moving,” he explained.
But whenever designing and implementing new systems in different nations, technical and procedural challenges are experienced.
“It is worth noting that there are numerous regulatory aspects to be examined for each country, which are strongly related to data access and data privacy. These would be the crucial aspects which require full attention, even before the implementation phase arrives,” he remarked.