COVID-19: Revamping Africa’s telecoms infrastructure crucial for digital health services

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, May 14, 2020 (ECA) – Africa’s telecoms infrastructure services need to be revamped if the continent is to effectively deliver digital health services, a new paper from the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) notes.

Produced in light of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the paper notes how the unprecedented crisis has demonstrated across the world the vital role of digital technologies in fighting such health epidemics, in particular accelerating the digitalization of many businesses and services, including teleworking and video conferencing systems, access to healthcare, education and essential goods and services.

“African countries need more than ever to strengthen their ICT sector development through putting in place enabling legal and regulatory frameworks relating to cybersecurity, personal data protection and privacy, digital payments and supporting the growth of financial technology startups,” notes the paper titled; COVID-19 and ICTs in Africa and penned by the Technology, Climate Change & Natural Resource Management Division (TCND).

The paper notes that African countries that have made progress with the liberalization of their telecom sector, which in turn led to the wide spread availability of broadband infrastructure, were able to reap the benefit in fighting COVID-19.

Pre-existing policy and regulatory measures had implications to the affordability, accessibility and use of information and communication technologies in different African countries. 

“Mapping infrastructure for emergency situations will be important to see how policies and regulation made it difficult to harness ICTs to respond to the COVID-19 emergency across the continent. This lesson can be used for ensuring flexibility and continuous reforming the regulatory and policy framework in the future,” reads the paper.

ICT, Economy and Livelihoods during Covid-19

While life and work continue through virtual options, ICTs and digital solutions have been playing a key role in making sure people can access goods and services through the use of mobile money which is now the preferred mechanism for local transactions and payments.

“It is crucial to document lessons learnt in the use of mobile money and other apps to continue economic activity like selling goods and services,” notes the paper, adding in the education sector a lot has to be done to ensure African students benefit from online learning as is happening in developed countries.

The paper notes that the application of health for tracking and tracing the pandemic and other aspects, including data gathering and analysis, is generally weak at this moment and adds there is need to gather more data in this area to collate Africa’s experience.

“There is a need to go beyond the current technologies, look forward to what is in store for Africa with regards to emerging technologies; artificial intelligence, blockchain, internet of things and big data analytics in particular. We have not seen much going on in this area in Africa but these technologies are in great use in developed countries in diagnosis, treatment and drug discovery,” the paper notes.

The says that it is important to assess the negative impact of technology as well especially as misinformation has increased exponentially during the pandemic.

“Social media has been used by some to jeopardize national, regional and international efforts in fighting COVID-19 which has been one negative side of the use of ICTs. There is a need to do some work in this area by building on earlier work on the negative impact of social media on development and democracy in Africa,” the paper notes.

Once this pandemic is over, the world economy will largely be driven by the digital technology that Africa need to be ready to catch up with and in some respects lead the future of the digital world. To this end, UNECA is assisting its member States to respond to COVID-19 through the use of digital technologies and has also re-initiated its ICT policy development program to support member States in the formulation and implementation of digital technologies towards acceleration of socio-economic transformation in the continent.


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Issued by:

Communications Section
Economic Commission for Africa
PO Box 3001
Addis Ababa
Tel: +251 11 551 5826