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WHO Partners With Tech Companies For Coronavirus Hackathon

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Tech companies including Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, TikTok and others have partnered with WHO for a hackathon. The partnership will promote the development of software to take on the challenges related to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The #BuildforCOVID19 hackathon was announced yesterday and will begin accepting project submissions on Thursday. The hackathon will basically encourage software developers to build projects focused around the themes of health. Including the vulnerable populations, communities, education systems and businesses.

The tech companies “will be sharing resources to support participants throughout the submission period.”

“We’re encouraging YOU -the innovators around the world to #BuildforCOVID19 using technologies of your choice across a range of suggested themes and challenge areas. Some are sourced through health partners including the World Health Organization and scientists at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub,” according to the hackathon portal.

WHO declared Covid -19 a world pandemic and since then, the government have come up with stern measures to guide their citizens to practice social distancing. Companies have also gone ahead to implement a wok form home policy to reduce the chances of spreading it.

“There is high isolation happening within communities right now. We want to create an online space where developers can share ideas, experiment and build software solutions to help address this crisis. We’ve connected with a range of partners including the World Health Organization (WHO) to understand some of the key challenge areas that technological innovation could help solve” added Hackathon.

Key themes of the Covid-19 Hackathon

Some of the topics include the need for accurate disease prevention information around the world in languages/formats that resonate locally. And also regional needs for expertise, resources/supplies and financial support from donors.

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Tech companies are free to pick on any theme and submit.

The themes below will help shape the ideas.

  1. Health: Address and scale a range of health initiatives, including preventative/hygiene behaviours. Especially in at-risk countries and populations. Supporting the frontline health workers, scaling telemedicine, contact tracing/containment strategies, treatment and diagnosis development.
  2. Vulnerable Populations:  These populations mostly include the elderly and the immunocompromised such as access to meals and groceries. As well as supporting those who are losing jobs and income.
  3. Businesses: Problems that businesses are facing to stay afloat, collaborate effectively and move parts of their business online.
  4. Community: Promoting new ways to connect to friends, family, and neighbours. Including ways to combat social isolation and the digitizing of public services for local governments.
  5. Education: Alternative learning environments and tools for students, now that schools have close due to the lockdown. The materials can range from teachers and entire school systems.
  6. Entertainment: Alternatives to traditional forms of entertainment that can keep the talent and audiences a safe and healthy way from panic and fear.

 


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Affordability of Smartphones Crucial in COVID-19 Fight

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The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced how important connectivity is in the modern world.

As it has become more challenging to communicate directly, the use of ICT has become even more critical for the dissemination of information by government, experts, and the media.

Key to digital communication is the phone – especially the smartphone.

The smartphone allows people to stay in touch with their friends and families, receive important information, and educate themselves during these tough times.

Smartphones may become even more crucial when the outbreak is brought under control.

However, the cost of handsets is a significant barrier to mobile Internet adoption and use – and this is not the fault of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Low-cost devices are often out of the reach of those in poverty, which is a problem considering that these devices can be key enablers for escaping poverty.

Research in countries like Tanzania and India found that the extremely poor – those who earn less than $2 per day – would have to spend 16% of their annual income just to purchase an average-priced smartphone. For people who are struggling to eat on a daily basis, using this percentage of their income is not a rational option.

However, device manufacturers cannot offer phones at a significantly more affordable rate because they have costs of their own to manage.

For this reason, it is necessary to develop business models which ensure that those in poverty can own smartphones.

Given the nature of the COVID-19 crisis, there is no better time to develop such business models and get more Kenyans connected.

Smartphones are not a luxury

One of the reasons smartphones are expensive in Kenya, and Africa as a whole is that they incur high taxes.

In fact, import taxes and duties can reach as high as 50% of the total device cost in some African countries.

This is partially due to high costs for device transportation – particularly to emerging markets.

Additionally, storage, warehousing, and inventory management all provide significant additional costs.

A simple way to reduce these tax costs could be by ceasing to class smartphones as luxury items.

Smartphones have become more than a luxury – they are now crucial sources of information and connectivity and not having one is a significant barrier to economic prosperity.

If luxury tariffs were no longer due on smartphones, it would make it possible to slash smartphone prices considerably – making them more accessible to more African citizens.

This would be particularly beneficial to the development and distribution of locally-manufactured smartphones – offering significant opportunities for economic growth.

Another strategy could be to abolish the taxation and duties placed upon smartphones below a certain value.

This would result in citizens being able to purchase these cheap smartphones, while still boosting government revenue through airtime and data bundles, as well as income from other mobile income streams.

Strategies for smartphone proliferation

While reducing the taxation on smartphones is an obvious way to make smartphones more affordable, other strategies can also reduce the cost of smartphones for low-income citizens.

One such strategy includes government getting involved in parts of the value chain – including marketing, distribution, and retail.

This would reduce the costs directly incurred by smartphone makers by reducing the number of players within the supply chain.

Another strategy would be government assisting through subsidies or donations to NGOs and other entities – meaning the government would be subsidising the cost of devices for those who need them most.

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These and other strategies should be discussed by the government, and strategies should be undertaken to facilitate the increase in citizens who have smartphones, and by extension, access to the digital economy.

Some examples of how governments can assist through subsidies or other means include:

  • Argentina – Provided asset financing to 8 million citizens to switch from 2G feature phones to 4G smartphones.
  • Columbia – Allocated $90 million over three years to a policy which included subsidies for low-income citizens for data and smartphones.
  • Malaysia – Launched a national program to encourage youth to purchase 3G-enabled smartphones with a rebate on certain phones – reducing the cost by 40%.
  • Pakistan government – used funds to give smartphones to 30,000 low-income women.

Smartphone uptake is important

ICT expert Charley Lewis told MyBroadband that the drive for smartphone uptake in Africa is important for consumers as those who do not have these devices are deprived of access to much of the Internet and its benefits – such as highly useful apps.

“If [the] pricing of entry-level smartphones can be kept low and priced into pay-as-you-go plans, and with data prices poised to fall, I see no reason that there should not be an upsurge in smartphone demand,” said Lewis.

“The benefits to universal access and service, and to the increased data revenues, are sure to the benefit of users and operators alike.”

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to develop and implement long-term solutions to the digital divide in Africa.

In this regard, the first priority of government should be to ensure that all Africans are able to access digital platforms through devices like smartphones so that they can stay informed on that which is important.

Making smartphones more accessible to a larger number of Africans is key to this, as it could help to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of these citizens.

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Kenya’s Covid-19 cases hit 1962 after 74 test positive – KBC

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The number of Covid-19 cases in the country has risen to 1962 after the Ministry of Health announced 74 more positive cases.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

The latest confirmed cases Sunday afternoon are from 1574 samples that were taken for testing in the last 24 hours.

The Health Ministry has so far conducted 78,536 tests since the disease was first reported in the country.

Laikipia becomes the latest County to record a case with one (1), bringing the tally of counties affected so far to 34.

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In terms of County distribution: Nairobi leads with Nairobi 35, Mombasa 23, Busia 6, Kiambu 2, Kwale 2, Kajiado 2, Kilifi 1, Uasin Gishu 1, Taita Taveta 1, Laikipia 1.

At the same time, 14 patients have been discharged from hospital bringing the total number of recoveries to 478.

One person has succumbed to Covid-19 bringing the total fatalities to 64.

 

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Content Is King for Digital Inclusion-GSMA

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The lack of compelling online content has been identified as one of the major reasons why millions of people are still digitally excluded especially in Sub – Saharan Africa. 

On an online Mobile Broadband Inclusion Roundtable organized by Huawei recently, Head of Sub-Saharan Africa for GSMA, Akinwale Goodluck said that relevant and customized content targeted for specific markets was key in driving more people online. 

“We have to promote content that is relevant, including language sensitive content, content that adds value, and content which is socially and locally relevant and brings people first internet experience and good experience to bring them back, to ensure them to see the value in buying data bundles,” he said.

Telkom Kenya recently partnered with Nairobi City County to provide free internet connectivity to Nairobi CBD. While another mobile operator, Airtel Kenya in conjunction with Longhorn publishers offer free e learning for primary and secondary school students. 

While talking about the importance of valuable content, Akinwale also emphasized the importance of governments taking some of their work online in an effort to encourage digital inclusion, and called on telecommunication operators and governments to collaborate in committing to boosting this aspect.

“It is not necessarily about affordability, if they have compelling reasons, they will go, so there is a lot of work for everybody to do,” Goodluck said.

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Telecommunications giant Safaricom has partnered with education content providers such as Shupavu291, E-learning and Viusasa for free access to digital learning material, enabling primary and secondary school learners to take online lessons for free.

In a bid to bridge the digital divide during the lockdown, Huawei has been offering university students through their ICT Academies online ICT courses in Routing and Switching, WLAN, Security and Cloud Computing s. Students who finish their online courses are also provided with cash and data bundles as incentives to completing their courses. 

“If the content is right, the relevance is proven and compelling enough, people will reflect all the cost of the access, and they will go online and do what they need to do as long as it is profitable, rewarding and they can see the value in it,” Goodluck said.


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