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Vodacom CEO details COVID-19 relief efforts in African ops

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Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub.
Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub.

Vodacom has outlined its continental COVID-19 relief efforts, saying it is implementing various initiatives across its operations to support African governments in combating the spread of the virus.

CEO Shameel Joosub says regardless of race, culture or status, people around the world are suffering in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many African governments that have been battling with controlling the spread of the deadly virus have in recent weeks teamed up with technology and telecommunications firms, including social media giants Facebook and WhatsApp, to fight the coronavirus on different levels.

Joosub says with many people now being increasingly physically isolated in various state lockdowns, mobile and fixed networks become even more critical to keep societies functioning.

As a result, he says, Vodacom's numerous teams in countries across the African continent are working hard to keep communities, businesses and governments connected.

“We are also seeing the development of some exciting innovations which harness the power of technology to help fight the virus.”

Joosub has given a synopsis of how Vodacom is helping to flatten the COVID-19 curve through technological innovation.

Government partnerships

In South Africa, Vodacom is donating 20 000 smartphones plus 100 terabytes of data and 10 million voice call minutes to the National Department of Health to collect and transmit data in real-time for resource planning purposes as government accelerates its COVID-19 testing campaign.

Joosub says: “Vodacom South Africa recently entered into a partnership with Discovery Health, the country’s largest administrator of medical schemes, to offer free virtual consultations with doctors to the general public to alleviate pressure on the country’s healthcare system by assisting in diagnosing COVID-19 as well as treating it.”

In Tanzania, the telco made a donation of R19 million both to the central government committee driving national response plans on COVID-19 and the government of Zanzibar to be used towards purchasing medical equipment.

“Through the Vodacom Tanzania Foundation, Vodacom is providing the Ministry of Health and ICT departments with 10 mobile routers and bundles to assist them in their response efforts. Vodacom Tanzania has also provided a zero-rated data link to the country’s government COVID-19 team to assist with communication and provide free data access to the National Institute of Medical Research.”

Similarly, in the DRC, Vodacom is providing an SMS broadcast to its entire customer base with information and updates from government around the pandemic.

“Vodacom DRC is building a zero-rated ConnectU platform which will include the provision of COVID-19 info. Vodacom DRC is also offering the government a zero-rated short code that allows the general public to call into specialised Ministry of Health agents to ask about COVID-19 symptoms and guidance. It has zero-rated all government Web sites and applications that inform the public about the pandemic.”

Network congestion relief

Furthermore, Joosub says, in Mozambique, Vodacom is providing free connectivity to ministries, airports and NGOs. “In addition to this, Vodacom Mozambique is in discussions with the Ministry of Health to offer support around geo-data tracking and big data analytics.

“In Lesotho, Vodacom has sponsored a toll-free call centre and WhatsApp line for information and guidance around the pandemic. Vodacom Lesotho has further donated 1 000 mobile phones to government for use in efforts to track and contain the pandemic.”

Vodacom Lesotho is allocating data and voice call minutes to 6 000 health workers to enable easy communication and access to crucial COVID-19-related information.

Over and above that, the company has zero-rated access to educational and health Web sites to enable easy access to information by citizens and continued digital access to education during the national lockdown and beyond.

Turning to infrastructure, Vodacom says it is investing over R500 million in SA to help ease traffic congestion on its network during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

Joosub explains the telco has “recently experienced extraordinary growth in network traffic” in all the countries it has a footprint, prompting Vodacom to implement measures to ensure network quality across the continent will not be compromised in the coming months.

“Both Vodacom Tanzania and the DRC are prioritising network optimisation for areas that need improvement as well as network resilience. In Lesotho, equipment is being purchased to increase capacity in identified hotspots and, in Mozambique, plans have been initiated to provide additional support to all critical sites.

“It is critical that small and micro businesses across the continent remain supported during the pandemic. In South Africa, Vodacom is extending loans to SMEs to assist them with cash flow challenges. Vodacom Tanzania is currently assessing the risk of SMEs shutting down, and a payment plan will be put in place for customers who need support.

“In the DRC, additional data allocations have been provided to SMEs, and work from home services have been extended to all Vodacom enterprise customers in the region.

“Vodacom Mozambique is looking to introduce special work at home packages for SMEs. Vodacom Lesotho has identified vulnerable sectors for special assistance and is also considering providing a combination of payment holidays or discounts to SMEs over a four-month period.”

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