10 African companies helping stop the spread of COVID-19
by Akinyi Ochieng, Esther Ocloo Fellow, Botho Emerging Markets Group
Coronavirus case counts are rising rapidly in Africa. At the time of writing, more than 11,400 cases and 574 deaths have been confirmed. According to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, “COVID-19 has the potential not only to cause thousands of deaths, but to also unleash economic and social devastation.” From access to quality care to the availability of ventilators and testing, African countries face a unique challenge in fighting this pandemic. As public health officials ramp up prevention efforts while bracing for the worst, the region’s private sector is stepping up to the plate. Here are some innovative African companies giving back to their communities to help stop the spread.
Improvements in testing rates are essential to achieve government interventions in slowing the rate of COVID-19 infections, but Africa has few laboratories running tests. As a result, test results currently take too long to be delivered — hindering efforts at early detection.
Ghanaian start-up mPharma, a prescription drug manager for providers and payers in Africa, is launching a solution to equip and re-purpose private labs into COVID-19 testing centers. Each lab will receive one PCR equipment and test kits from mPharma. These labs will also receive funding to increase biosafety levels. The initiative will launch in Ghana, one of the countries hardest-hit by the pandemic, with plans to expand to Nigeria, Kenya and Zambia. mPharma is also working with longtime partner Red Cross to establish testing centers in fragile countries such as Zimbabwe.
Five testing centers are set to launch in Ghana in April and are on track to receive 20,000 test kits. The company is also developing software that will enable doctors to schedule tests and receive results once completed.
Lifebank, a Lagos-based blood and oxygen delivery company, has launched a mobile testing center for COVID-19 in partnership with the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR). The mass testing lab is located in Yaba, Lagos and aims to expand to test up to 200 individuals per day.
Given the risks of handling cash during the pandemic, Paga is making it easier and cheaper for consumers to use their digital payments platform. The mobile money lender has adjusted its fees for in-store merchant payments and money transfers. Merchants can save on transaction fees by accepting payments with Paga without incurring additional charges.
Customers can send money for free when using the recipient’s phone number or email address instead of a bank account. Those who still wish to send to a bank account can enjoy free money transfers for amounts below N5,000 (USD $13).
Telco leader Safaricom has launched several initiatives to support its customers across Kenya by facilitating seamless digital payments at a time when people need them most. In March, Safaricom announced that all transitions under KSh 1000 (USD $9) would be free and waived charges for payments made to all hospitals and dispensaries across Kenya for 90 days. As more Kenyans shift to working from home, Safaricom has also doubled the bandwidth offered to its Home Fibre customers at no extra costs for 90 days.
Working closely with the Kenyan government, Safaricom has also created a Call Centre and integrated a toll-free line 719 set up by the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus to manage suspected cases. All calls to 719 are free.
Epione (South Africa)
Epione, an online healthcare platform connecting physicians and patients, has launched an online pre-screening symptom checker that connects stakeholders in the healthcare sector, enabling a seamless patient journey. The application allows patients to monitor the evolution of their symptoms and prompts them to seek medical attention when appropriate. Patients have the option to select a doctor for screening and a digital case log tracks their progress and medical history.
SweepSouth (South Africa)
SweepSouth, a cleaning service company that connects clients to on-demand domestic cleaners via an online booking platform, has launched its “COVID-19 SweepStar Fund”. With South Africa currently in lockdown, the SweepStar Fund will pay thousands of cleaners who use its platform up to R450 (USD $25) weekly for the next three months to help cover the cost of their living essentials.
The company has already raised over R7.1 million (USD $394,000), with over R6 million (USD $333,000) in support from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.
Cameroon’s OuiCare is a digital health platform connecting patients to doctors, medical data as well as hospitals and clinics. In the face of COVID-19, OuiCare has adapted its model to offer users access to real-time information on the state of the pandemic to help curb the spread of the disease. OuiCare is also providing a forum for users to ask questions about COVID-19 and receive answers from health professionals. In a recent interview with Disrupt Africa, co-founder Emmanuel Assom Neyeng shared that the company is developing a teleconsultation module to allow people to stay at home, receive consultations, and detail their symptoms.
Omidyar-backed Ubongo, a Tanzanian educational content platform for children ages 3–14, is offering its library of TV and radio edutainment content as well as public service announcements and educational videos to support health and hygiene– for free to any broadcasters and partners who can share it with communities in need.
Launched by media producer Nisha Ligon in 2013, the nonprofit educates children by leveraging technology common among most African families — radio, TV, mobile and paperback books — to deliver local language educational content.
This month, the company also launched its Ubongo Toolkits platform, a large library of quality, African-made early learning materials and educational resources for kids aged 0–14, covering various topics from early numeracy, pre-literacy, and social and emotional skills to engineering, science, and technology. These materials are currently available in Kiswahili and English, and production of Kinyarwanda, Hausa, Kikuyu, Luo and Chichewa versions is underway.
Eneza Education (Kenya)
Kenya-based Eneza Education offers an affordable, government-accredited curriculum designed and refined for feature phones. To support children out of school due to COVID-19, Eneza is ensuring that students in primary and secondary school will be able to access free Revision Lessons, Revision Papers as well as Wikipedia to help them keep up with their studies during the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, they can use Eneza’s “Ask A Teacher” feature to ask questions and receive near real-time answers from teachers. The company has partnered with Safaricom to provide all content on its Shupavu291 platform for free to all learners from 2nd April 2020 to 31st May 2020.
Africa Check (South Africa)
Founded in 2012, Africa Check is Africa’s first independent fact-checking organization. The nonprofit promotes accuracy in public debate and the media in Africa. Africa Check is currently busy fact-checking viral WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts, tweets and news articles to combat misinformation about coronavirus in Africa. These fact-checks can be grouped into six broad categories: cures and prevention, hoaxes, manipulated or out of context videos and images, conspiracy theories and predictions, the odd and the bizarre, things that are actually true as well as audio and podcasts.
Akinyi Ochieng is Esther Ocloo Fellow at Botho Emerging Markets Group.