WHO hosts innovators in Africa’s Covid-19 combat

23May 2020
The Guardian
WHO hosts innovators in Africa’s Covid-19 combat

​​​​​​​A COMMUNITY of African innovators is stepping up support to the continent’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

They are collaborating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in developing solutions to help contain the spread of the virus.

On Wednesday, the WHO Africa Region hosted the first of a series of sessions by multiplex for innovators across the region to showcase home-grown creative solutions aimed at addressing critical gaps in the response to Covid-19.

Eight innovators from Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Guinea and Kenya presented their pioneering solutions, all of which have already been implemented in their respective countries. There was significant potential for the solutions to be scaled up further across the region.

Innovations ranged from interactive public transport contact tracing apps and dynamic data analytics to rapid diagnostic testing kits, mobile testing booths and low-cost critical care beds.

WHO officials have urged a multifaceted and multisectoral approach to combating and containing the Covid-19 pandemic in the region. It recognizes that providing ongoing support and a regular platform to African innovators can be a key facet in this quest.

“Innovation propels human advancement. In times like these when we are confronted with a major public health emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, we know that our hope for a better tomorrow lies in finding creative, ground-breaking or avant-garde solutions,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“That is why supporting innovation is a critical component not only in our collective efforts to combat diseases in Africa, but to provide adapted solutions to ensure better health for all.”

The inaugural innovation showcase by multiplex put out a public call for submissions to an extensive network of WHO African innovators. In addition to those presenting, about 350 innovators and other interested parties joined the session, with many participating in a lively Q&A.

“There is already an overwhelming demand from other innovators who wish to be part of this event going forward. There is a wealth of innovation talent in Africa and sustaining this kind of platform should be part of our DNA as an organisation,” said Dr Moredreck Chibi, the WHO regional innovation advisor, who facilitated the event.

The multiplex innovation sessions also aim to build on WHO’s inaugural Hackathon hosted last month, which tasked small groups of participants with developing scalable concepts aligned with one of the eight pillars of WHO’s current Covid-19 response strategy.

These were identified as coordination, surveillance, risk communication and community engagement, points of entry, laboratory, infection prevention and control.

Other relevant areas are case management and continuity of essential health services along with operational and logistics support.

The three highest ranking groups were awarded seed funding to begin implementing their innovations. WHO will look to provide further operational support to several other higher ranked innovations highlighted in the sessions, the coordinator noted.

Understanding how the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve in Africa is still a work in progress, and the response is constantly being adapted to the African context, he said.

“Solidarity and the exchange of knowledge, ideas and resources across the region remains an integral part of this process. WHO aims to continue integrating African innovators into the regional response strategy,” he added.