Gov’t re-launches enhanced COVID-19 tracker
The government of Ghana has intensified its fight against the coronavirus with the re-launch of an upgraded GH COVID-19 tracker app.
The Ministry of Communications spearheaded the design and development of the mobile application for tracing COVID-19 carriers and contacts.
It also helps individuals to assess their risk of infection based on symptoms and data analyses.
The app is available on Google Play for Android users and App Store for iPhone users and also has a USSD version which can be accessed using the shortcode *769#.
The features include: symptoms checker, emergency helplines, COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), latest health expert advice, self-quarantine registration, events and venue management, live updates on COVID-19 cases, and heat maps to show live nearby hotspots.
Unveiling the enhanced version of the app, Communications Minister Mrs Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, emphasized: “because of the generous support of the private sector, Ghana has been able to secure all these digital technologies at no cost to Government”.
The tracker places Ghana among countries such as China, South Korea, Singapore, Germany, Israel and Russia, who have deployed applications for the contagion.
The application developed by local experts has recorded up to 100,000 downloads across all platforms.
The Member of Parliament (MP) for Ablekuma West wants the tracker to become an integrated application for tracking symptoms, contact tracing and quarantine management open up the economy.
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.
She said the government’s quest to fight the virus using science and data requires digital technology and innovation to restore every sector of the economy to normalize the economy.
The government, she said was committed to transforming the pandemic “to an opportunity using technology”.
PANABIOS pilot programme
In addition to the GH COVID 19 Tracker, the government is also piloting the African Union (AU) platform PANABIOS (www.panabios.org) to leverage its digital infrastructure.
“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 programme,” she revealed.
The PANABIOS will be a database for African countries where traveller’s information can be verified if they had taken COVID-19 tests prior to moving to another country.
“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 minimise the risk of fake declarations,” Mrs Owusu-Ekuful added.
It will also serve as a knowledge-sharing hub between regional countries as the AU intensifies efforts to root out the virus from the continent.
With its vast usage, it would be recalled that the Electoral Commission (EC) used the same platform to manage crowds to ensure adherence to COVID-19 social distance protocols during the ended voter registration exercise.
Government is ensuring digital surveillance of all meetings, conferences and exhibitions conducted at hotels, convention centres and other potential COVID-19 infection and transmission hotspots.
This, she explained, will proactively identify potential spikes and facilitate intervention before runaway infection spread can commence.
The UN Africa Communications and Information Platform (ACIP), an initiative to develop an Africa-wide COVID -19 app for a health and economic action, is also utilising Ghana’s COVID-19 tracker app which has a symptom tracker and event management module, she noted.
After Ghana opened its airports for international travel on September 1, the minister encouraged all incoming passengers to download the app upon arrival at the Kotoka International Airport.
She highlighted the collaborative efforts with the AU, the Africa CDC, ECOWAS and UNECA for the digital platforms.
Initial mixed reactions addressed
The announcement of the app in April was greeted with several mixed reactions.
Founder of a tech company, mPedigree, Bright Simons, wondered how Ghanaians would be able to use an app not verified by Google and Apple to be hosted on their platforms.
“It has been vigorously checked by the App Store and Google Play to ensure that it conforms to their strict guidelines,” She responded.
Others also questioned the safety of their biodata which will be entered in the app.
“Nobody can retrieve any information without your consent through any back doors on this app,” she stressed. “All those who are working on the app are fully trained in data protection practices and so all the information provided is according to our law”
Active COVID-19 cases fall below 1000
For his part, the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, provided some update on Ghana’s infections.
Active cases, he revealed has dropped to 908 and the day before it was a 1,063 “so we are on a downward trend but we can only sustain that if we continue doing exactly what we have been doing over the last few months that have brought us this far”.
The tracker is a very essential innovation “that was used in fighting the virus”, he noted.
The improved version is “the only app in Ghana and Africa to be approved to have a geofencing for easy contact tracing and live tracking by GHS and information gathering by users of the app”.
He pointed out that the app will be useful in tracking future infectious diseases but cautioned that it does not provide a diagnosis or prescription for medication.
Also present at the launch were Deputy Minister for Communications George Andah, Deputy Minister for Communications Alexander K.K. Abban, representatives from the AU, health experts, IT professionals and other stakeholders.