MTN anchors new African COVID-19 comms platform

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MTN Group CEO Rob Shuter.
MTN Group CEO Rob Shuter.

Pan-African mobile operator MTN has upped its support of the war against COVID-19 on the continent by anchoring a new communication and virus information platform.

The Africa COVID-19 Communications and Information Platform (ACCIP) is driven by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) to assist countries on the continent to respond to the impact of COVID-19.

MTN is a key partner in the development of the platform, and its role includes the creation and operationalisation of the mobile platform’s templates and operating protocols.

Launched on Tuesday, the platform is set to reach more than 600 million users across the continent, and MTN says the ACCIP represents a mix of high- and low-tech “to take practical advantage of the richness of data generated by users of even simple 2G phones”.

Africa has over 300 000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and the continent is now increasing communication levels in an effort to curb the spread, which is expected to peak this winter.

“As a Pan-African company, we are vested in the continent’s development and its ability to rise out of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than before. Driven to enable digital and financial inclusion, we felt it important to use our technology, expertise and network for the good of Africa and its people,” says MTN Group president and CEO Rob Shuter.

The new platform is aimed at supporting each country’s national COVID-19 taskforce, to enhance its ability to analyse the situation and implement the necessary responses, as well as direct resources to mitigate the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Anonymous user-generated survey data will be transmitted to an artificial intelligence-driven system, which will then combine it with public information from social and other digital channels for targeted analysis.

Shuter says the consortium behind the platform is conscious of the challenges regarding technology adoption on the continent and has zero-rated services.

“As we worked with the various partners to develop the platform, we were mindful of the realities faced in African markets where smartphone penetration and Internet penetration are low. This platform offers free-to-use services using a combination of text and voice interactions.”

Additionally, with the platform, policymakers will be allowed to share insights and harness data to inform decision-making at regional and national level for the benefit of local populations.

“National authorities will ultimately also be able to conduct community-level messaging for social welfare, facilitating cash distribution (including e-payments) or targeted information on local food distribution or the provision of clean water. When data shows emerging virus hotspots, authorities will be able to direct medical resources to those areas, as well as alert residents of their availability,” says MTN.

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