Africa’s Pulse: Digital Sector Responses to COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Five years ago, the sustainable development goals which are now under a threat due to COVID-19 were adopted. The gains we have made are likely to be lost if the threats depicted by this pandemic are not countered in a timely manner.

Nevertheless, it is important to note the opportunities digital technologies have offered to support the COVID-19 responses especially in Sub-Saharan Africa where poverty, poor health, and limited access to services present challenges even to the most robust of health systems on the continent.

Africa’s pulse recognizes the role digital sector has played in economic development regardless of the challenges and also notes that a lot still needs to be done in sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to the adoption of digital technologies by governments and household firms.

The numbers of confirmed cases in Africa have surged and keep rising each passing day. This has prompted countries and partner organizations to embark on various strategies to control the spread of the disease.

These strategies largely focus on sharing vital health information through the use of digital technologies to help implement stay at home directives.

Governments have been applauded for actively trying to ensure business continuity during the corona virus pandemic in different ways without varying success and their interventions to reduce costs of devices which has made it easier for everyone to have access to services at affordable prices.

Efforts taken by governments to facilitate network expansion and adopt new technologies during the pandemic can be seen. In April 2020, the Kenyan government approved for google and Telkom Kenya to deploy google balloons to provide faster internet to Kenyans as they work from home.

This initiative made it easier for businesses to continue thriving under lockdowns. Although African service providers believe it is impossible to roll out a network service that would cover an entire country, emerging technologies like google loon are trying to bridge the gap between internet costs and speeds.

Africa’s pulse however recommends improvement of digital skills and literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced an increase in education and literacy rates, the quality of education is still par.

Functional illiteracy in Sub-Saharan Africa exceeds digital illiteracy because users’ inability to read and write to a level necessary to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level hampers effective communication of government’s measures to address COVID-19 and to counter misinformation campaigns.

To effectively improve overall health and well-being of Africans, challenges like poor digital infrastructures, network coverage and limited access to digital devices also need to be resolved. Otherwise if the status quo is maintained, health inequities will continue to grow.

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