Speaking Notes for Minister of Communications on the Launch of the Gh COVID-19 App Upgrade at Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence

Hon. Ministers

The Director General of the Ghana Health Service

Distinguished Personalities

Invited Guest

Friends from the Media

Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome

Some 5 months ago, on Easter Monday, April 13, 2020, the government through the Ministry of Communications launched the GH COVID 19 Symptoms Tracker App as our response to use technology to fight the Coronavirus pandemic.

We also established the Emergency Communication System to provide timely information, derived from mobile phone usage, to the GHS to facilitate contact tracing. With support from the Ministry of Communications, the Ghana Health Service has been empowered with systems to help them have access to information in order to help preserve the health and safety of all Ghanaians.

Through user downloads of the app, the Ghana Health Service was able to work faster and efficiently with the additional information from the data entered into the app.

Feedback from the first launch of the GH COVID-19 Tracker App in April, 2020 has been great, indicating the widespread acceptance and usage of the app and  has also necessitated an upgrade with enhanced features to deliver better and more user friendly services.

Today, we are here once again to relaunch the upgraded version of the COVID19-Symptom Tracker in view of the Presidents easing of restrictions on movement and the opening up of airport to travellers.

The government strategy of using a multi-stage COVID 19 recovery plan based on science and data requires the deployment and use of digital technology and innovation to restore every sector of the Ghanaian economy to normalcy.

We are leveraging on existing digital technology and applications, in addition to novel systems, to create a digital shield with the objective of transforming the COVID19 Pandemic from a crisis to an opportunity using technology.

Under this re-launched platform healthcare staff will be able to contact patients and track movement of COVID 19 live cases.

The new platform can also alert users on moving out of allowed areas, report case breaches to the authorities and push notifications to bulk users among others

  • The updated features of the Gh-Covid-19 Tracker and USSD include:

1.         Symptoms Checker

2.         Emergency helplines

3.         Covid-19 FAQs and Latest Health Expert Advice

4.         Self-Quarantine Registration

5.         Events and Venue Management

6.         Live Updates on Covid cases

7.         Heat Maps To show live nearby hotspots  

It is critical that the GH COVID 19 Tracker becomes an integrated application for tracking symptoms, contact tracing and quarantine management to enable us open the economy even more and safely too.

The Ministry of Communications along with the Ghana Health Service are mandated to ensure the use of the application by all citizens and enterprises across Ghana.

Using technology, we will build an economy which is safe and creates an environment of collaboration where everyone contributes to reduce the infection rate.

The GH COVID 19 Tracker is based on the Centre for Disease Control CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines and it is continuously updated to reflect current COVID 19 protocols.

Additionally, the government is also piloting the African Union (AU) platform PANABIOS (www.panabios.org) to leverage its digital infrastructure in this pioneering efforts. With the gradual easing of restrictions on conferences, exhibitions, conventions and other social gatherings extreme care must be taken to minimize the risk of a second wave of infections and few mechanisms offer us the capabilities to balance these delicate competing interests of stemming disease spread whilst also restoring our socioeconomic lives to normalcy like technology, especially digital technology.

On 1stJune, 2020, I notified the country of governments intention to utilize technology to transform the current COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to build resilience into critical national structures and to create a digital shield, leveraging on existing systems

Ghana has been selected as the pioneer country for the deployment of the PanaBIOS platform, an initiative under the AU Open Corridors Initiative and the Africa CDC’s Saving Lives, Economies and Livelihoods program.

The updated GhCOVID19 Tracker app and PanaBios will ensure a unified, national, digital strategy to manage our nation’s response to COVID-19 through technology. During the just ended voter registration exercise, the Electoral Commission used these platforms to reduce the intensity of congestion and facilitate social distancing after the initial hiccups.

To make these digital interventions effective in assisting our recovery efforts,

We are taking the following measures.

  • Working with our diplomatic missions to ensure that COVID-19 tests taken at most, 72 hours prior to travellers arriving in Ghana, can be securely verified on PanaBIOS, thereby reducing the risk of COVID-positive passengers arriving in the country in the first place. This will minimize the risk of fake declarations.
  • Digital tracking and monitoring of all tests performed on arrival for biosecurity planning. This enables the relevant health and security authorities to continually monitor the trend of positives and negatives and adjust the countrys entry protocols accordingly.
  • Digital surveillance of all meetings, conferences and exhibitions conducted at hotels, convention centers and other potential COVID-19 infection & transmission hotspots. This will proactively identify potential spikes and facilitate intervention before runaway infection spread can commence.
  • Electronic validation for all vaccination cards, including yellow fever cards, as well as supply chain and adverse reactions monitoring, in anticipation of the eventual release and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine. We cannot cut corners and corrupt the system from its inception as some have done with the yellow fever vaccine card acquisition, and only technology provides the means to weed out quacks and cheats.
  • Digital monitoring and quality validation of rapid diagnostic tests to prevent fraud, gaming, and evasion as the government embarks on preventive bio-screening as a means of keeping the pandemic and future epidemics under control.

It is important to remember that these undertakings have a regional and international context and dimension, and we are working closely with the AU, the Africa CDC, ECOWAS and UNECA. The UN Africa Communications and Information Platform (ACIP), an initiative to develop an Africa-wide Covid -19 app for health and economic action is also utilizing Ghana's Covid tracker app which has a symptom tracker and event management module.  ACIP had a survey as part of their application and I encourage all to take the survey on the gh covid 19 app short code.

It is obvious that we cannot go it alone and must work to build regional systems that are sustainable and protect all Africans, regardless of their level of development. We must also look beyond today and plan ahead. How long can we expect people to pay for tests on arrival at our airports and how will that impact on the cost of travel, the success of the open skies’ initiative and the implementation of the AfCFTA among others? The data we gather from these apps will help answer these questions and help us build resilient systems that will ultimately hasten our return to normalcy.

I am also happy to announce that these apps were developed with African talent and ingenuity. We cannot always be consumers of others intellectual property and have the local talent to develop solutions to African challenges that have global application just as Africa has revolutionized Digital Financial Services through mobile money. The world still has a lot to learn from Africa and our digital covid response mechanisms may be yet another opportunity.

With the opening up the air-space by the President, we will encourage ALL incoming passengers to down load the app upon arrival at the Kotoka International Airport.

For the protection of its citizenry, the Government is asking that people test 48 hours prior to arrival and then also on arrival. The pre-arrival test and the arrival test will both be recorded. In the 2 days following the test, one can still catch the virus, therefore the arrival testing removes all such ambiguities.

The post-arrival test ensures that few people who end up being positive are also tested upon arrival, which is why Government has been able to remove the quarantine requirement as we expect only a few people to test positive and they will be sent away for treatment right away.

These safety measures coupled with the new features of the upgraded and enhanced version of the Gh Covid-19 Tracker app would go a long way to help us all stay safe.

We encourage all of you to download or reinstall the app or access the *769# ussd code and follow the prompts. It will take you an average of two minutes to complete.

The  GHCOVID 19 Symptoms Tracker is available on AppStore and Play store portals, (iOS, Android) while PanaBIOS is available for easy download at www.panabios.org

I will end by stating categorically that because of the generous support of the continental private sector, Ghana has been able to secure all these digital technologies at no cost to Government.

Thank you for your kind attention.

 

Stay well, stay safe.