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Digital innovation: The Covid-19 road to recovery [Opinion]

In the ongoing battle to control and contain COVID-19 across the world, it’s become clear just how crucial digital technology is to ensuring success globally.

There are already early indications that digital innovation is pivotal to pave the road to COVID-19 recovery, particularly in countries with less developed digital applications  

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The healthcare industry has been forced to revolutionise digital practices to enable the strategic collection of patient data, safe practices between providers and the public, and disbursing the necessary supplies to vulnerable communities. 

Here are just a few examples of how digital innovation could be the key to recovery from the global pandemic:

International remittance payments

Early data has shown that COVID-19 may have been the stimulus for rapid digital innovation in global remittance payments, with more people turning to digital money transfers for lower fees to send money home. It’s possible that as the world adapts to life with COVID-19, digital innovation will be key to ensuring vulnerable communities can continue to remain protected and supported from vital international payments.

Global remittances are crucial to vulnerable countries during a crisis, and the need for digital innovation is absolutely essential when it comes to financial services. For many countries, remittance payments are funding needs such as medicine, supplies, and family support – the loss of such payments due to economic crisis or simply being unable to send money abroad could have major implications.

For example, in 2018 Kenya received an amount roughly the equivalent of 0.8% of its GDP from the UK alone in remittances. A significant drop in remittance payments in 2020 could dramatically change the global economic landscape and leave thousands of households dependent on global remittances in vulnerable positions when in the midst of a global pandemic.

Track and trace apps

The need for artificial intelligence (AI) has become abundantly clear as the necessity for accurate tracking and tracing capabilities to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19 globally grows.

Already, digital innovations have enabled tracing without the need for reliance on individuals: a contact tracing app in South Africa uses location settings to track and trace people believed to have come into contact with the virus, while elsewhere, developers in Sweden have created an app to track the real-time status of patient volumes, PPE, and ventilator usage. 

It’s worth noting, however, that AI does still have its limitations. Privacy laws in many countries make tracking the movements of citizens difficult, whilst the success of many track and trace apps rely on the likelihood of smartphone users having their phone with them at all times when in public to accurately track location movements.

Virtualized Healthcare

Digital healthcare may not have been a major concern prior to the global pandemic, but it’s certainly a priority now. In the healthcare industry, video conferencing may become a vital part of communication between staff and patients to prevent new cases by minimizing physical contact as much as possible. 

While many countries are rapidly developing virtualisation treatment practices (known as telemedicine), some reports suggest that African healthcare providers are yet to join the rush for development. What is clear, however, is that digital healthcare technologies need to innovate rapidly in order to limit physical interactions between patients and healthcare providers in the fight against COVID-19.

Internet of Things (IOT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnection of computing devices to allow for the automated transference and real-time capture of data. While IoT has already undergone major digital innovations in sectors such as consumer electronics, it’s applications for managing COVID-19 are expansive.

Tracking devices, for example, could become a key component of reducing the spread of COVID-19 via IoT devices that can transfer patient data on temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure to healthcare providers. Likewise, innovations in IoT devices could also be used to enforce quarantine and social distancing rules amongst individuals, tracking the GPS signals of patients to ensure they do not breach quarantine.

The road to recovery from COVID-19 lies with major digital innovations in the healthcare industry, and already, it’s clear that adapting to life under a global pandemic has led to rapid changes to the technology currently being used to better equip healthcare professionals and protect the public from the spread of coronavirus.

What remains to be seen is how the need for data can be balanced with the necessary protection of citizen’s privacy and personal-care – while digital advancements may be key for mitigating the COVID-19 spread, regulation needs to run parallel to these developments.

This article was written by Jonathan Merry, CEO of 

Featured image: Jonathan Merry, CEO of (Supplied) 

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