As the initial cases of Coronavirus were bubbling under in China, a special event was happening in a Nairobi hotel. Safaricom, the biggest telco is the East African region was signing a deal that would allow South Korean telco Korean Telcom (KT) to introduce an epidemiological tracing technology in Kenya.
The two entities joined together with the Ministry of Health to launch disease surveillance and awareness project that will enhance the country’s epidemic preparedness and control. Safiri Smart is part of Korea Telecom’s Global Epidemic Prevention Project and is aimed at helping the Ministry of Health prevent the transmission of infectious diseases such as Ebola from entering Kenya.
“This solution will see Safaricom subscribers who opt into the service receive important information about any epidemics that have broken out at their travel destination including prevention, measures, and symptoms. Such partnerships that help keep our communities safe are crucial in our quest to fulfilling our vision of Transforming Lives,” said Stephen Chege, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Safaricom during the December launch.
Since this launch, nothing has been heard of the portal or whether it has been employed for data and intelligence gathering during Kenya’s struggle with tracing and control the spread of Coronavirus.
The then Cabinet Secretary of Health Sicily Kariuki was quoted during the launch saying that Kenya’s position as a major transport hub and the risk of contracting a notifiable infectious disease cross border was high and mobile phones can be a great tool in promoting public health.
Safari Smart provides epidemic big data to the Kenyan Health Ministry for enforcement of timely and efficient quarantine measures. It was launched with Ebola in mind where Kenyans travelling to prone areas like the Democratic Republic of Congo would get data sent to their phone by Safaricom while giving travel history to MOH. This data will help in decision making and fighting spread.
This is the same technology that South Korea has been employing to tame the spread of Coronavirus. When the initial outbreak happened South Korea was one of the fastest rising cases and the country knew there was a tool they could rely on.
They employed the use of big data tracing phone users through Korea Telecom network and learning about their travel history. Those that had a travel history to China had themselves quarantined and their movements monitored by the minute.
Korea has used Big Data, such as GPS tracking data from phones and cars, credit card transactions, travel histories, CCTV footage, and artificial intelligence to identify high-priority cases and track the routes of infected individuals
Although the total number of cases is high, daily increases have been declining steadily from a peak of just above 900 in late February to around 100 by the second week of March according to data provided by the World Bank. Recovered cases now far outnumber new cases, and deaths have been kept just above 100.
The World Bank report also notes that smartphone apps have been deployed for inbound international travelers who are undergoing the 14-day self-monitoring period and for suspected coronavirus cases who are in mandatory self-isolation. By facilitating self-monitoring and reporting data to the government, this prevented a ban on entry by international travelers.
KT’s Global Epidemic Prevention Platform is also piloting in Ghana with plans for expansion in East Asia. A smartphone app alerts mobile phone users of nearby outbreaks and lets them communicate their health conditions to authorities.
“Global telcos have a unique opportunity to help prevent contagious diseases from spreading by sharing crucial information with their subscribers at the right time and in the right format. We are dedicated to championing these efforts as part of our commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals”, said Myung Gon Chung, Vice President, Sustainability Management Department, Korea Telecom.