Adapting to the demands of a pandemic


The current global crisis has highlighted a number of areas, from the need of efficient information management to the need of accurate data gathering for faster medical response. In looking at the role of technology during this period, one area that has stood apart in driving meaningful change is the role of partnerships. Today, more than before, Microsoft 4Afrika is steadfast in supporting healthcare partners across the continent as they adapt their platforms and services to meet current needs.

Microsoft, through its 4Afrika initiative, has formed strategic partnerships with healthcare providers throughout Africa and beyond, providing them with technical support and business consultancy to help them achieve their goals. Each of these healthcare providers has had a significant impact in their sphere of influence, but with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve seen how our partners have used their existing platforms and programmes to pivot and adapt existing technologies to rapidly provide the much-needed response to address the challenges of the pandemic.

BroadReach, South Africa

When Microsoft 4Afrika first partnered with BroadReach, they were striving to create and implement data-driven solutions to improve the management and delivery of health programmes in underserved regions around the world. Vantage, an integrated cloud platform powered by Microsoft solutions, delivers powerful analytics that helps development, health and human services organisations quickly identify risks and opportunities.

Using machine learning, AI, big data and cloud computing, the company has enabled significant health outcomes in supported districts, integrating data immediately from a wide range of sources, and delivering real-time data, actionable insights and step-by-step implementation guidelines to boost effectiveness. Their digital HIV Portfolio on Management Solution has helped an estimated 340,000 people access HIV treatment in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, while their proactive predictive tool helps keep patients on treatment by predicting which patients are at risk of stopping medicines and empowering healthcare teams to reach out to them before they stop. Other types of predictive analysis help develop an understanding of how particular clinics and staff members are performing, medical stock levels and predicting what may happen and intervening before that happens.

During the Covid-19 crisis, BroadReach moved quickly to repurpose its existing platforms. The company used its Vantage platform, Microsoft Kaizala and previous learnings in HIV healthcare provision to rapidly upscale Covid-19 preparedness in 1,000 healthcare facilities across South Africa.

The company used its cloud services, built on Azure, to rapidly gather data from thousands of health workers in the field and instantly upload it into Vantage, where advanced analytics gave leaders key guidance to manage and prepare for the impact of the pandemic.

In healthcare, quick response times save lives. BroadReach produced a facility readiness survey that allows government to redirect resources to prioritised hospitals and facilities, so that they have the right equipment and medical supplies on hand. Predictive analysis can be used to help forecast and track outbreak hotspots.

During the peak of the outbreak in May, BroadReach reached the important milestone of 1,000,000 Covid-19 screenings in 40 days, screening 60,000 patients per day, with 1,925 713 people screened by 26 June 2020. During that time, 9,800 community health workers were trained in a 48-hour period, 50 million questions were answered, 6,028 presumptive cases were identified, and 10,002 specimens were collected.

Partnerships like the one with BroadReach demonstrate the significant value that technology can deliver in situations that are rapidly changing and require high volumes of data from disparate sources to be quickly analysed for use in prediction and preventative measures.

Key issues addressed:

  • Hospital and clinic preparedness; identifying which hospitals & clinics need to be prioritised and resourced accordingly for the Covid-19 peak
  • Enable a monitoring system to keep track of clinics & hospitals for ongoing preparedness during the outbreak
  • Keeping track of stocks of medicines and supplies on an ongoing basis per hospital & clinic
  • MS Kaizala used in Vantage app for community screening, testing & contact tracing to manage patient care/data

Sehat Kahani, Pakistan

It’s encouraging to see how technology can support the humanitarian healthcare goals of countries across the globe, and how leading technology companies can support and enable healthcare partners to provide better, faster and more accurate treatment. Seeing how technologies can be adapted to work best in an emerging crisis shows the value of investing in these partnerships to help develop these platforms and services.

Telemedicine is an area where technology is enabling safer diagnosis and limiting unnecessary contact between patients and healthcare providers. Globally, the use of telemedicine has been surging during the current pandemic.

Founded by two female Pakistani doctors, Dr Iffat Zafar and Dr Sara Saeed, Sehat Kahani is empowering female doctors and digitising healthcare in Pakistan. An e-health startup, the company aims to democratise access to quality and affordable health care using cost-effective ICT enabled solutions through a network of qualified home-based female doctors. The services integrate health with technology to create virtual solutions that provide access to health for all while making use of the untapped female health resources of Pakistan.

Supported by Microsoft 4Afrika, Sehat Kahani uses Microsoft platforms to provide patients who are far from healthcare centres with access to qualified doctors via a telemedicine platform, while cloud computing services mean that their patient records are immediately available anywhere using a mobile device.

During the Covid-19 crisis, Sehat Kahani has used its smartphone app to provide virtual consultations to patients across Pakistan, delivering educational content about the pandemic, and helping to direct them to the correct healthcare facilities if necessary.

The Sehat Kahani E- clinics as well as the mobile application provides a much safer solution for patients approaching with symptoms leading to coronavirus and also provide counselling and preventive measures to those who are reliant upon Google searches instead of professional consultations. With the outbreak on its peak, the feature of a video call ensures safety of the medical professionals along with assuring the patients never have to wait for hours, which decreases the probability of the spread of coronavirus.

The response line also enables qualified doctors to link patients with different service providers via the ‘Sehat Kahani’ E- clinics or App by providing prescriptions for medical supplies required by them which can be accessed in the clinics or be delivered on their doorstep using our service partners. The intention is to restrain the patients from exposing the virus to their surroundings by visiting public places such as pharmacies or health facilities unnecessarily.

Using its telemedicine platform, the startup has educated more than a million users about the virus and provided more than 6,000 online consultations with patients. The company currently has more than 160 female doctors working non-stop to support citizens through this health crisis.

Raphta, Kenya & South Africa

Microsoft 4Afrika partner Raphta has worked with Microsoft to develop software and hardware solutions that allow contactless biometrics which can be used for access control to facilities, among other things. Microsoft 4Afrika has supported Raphta with ongoing technical support and enablement for Microsoft platforms, business consultancy and go-to-market strategies.

Of course, during a pandemic where the virus can be transmitted on surfaces, contactless access assumes a far greater importance. Raphta is now offering its Shuri Face Contactless Biometrics solution to hospitals, clinics and buildings for thermal screening and containment, limiting contact and virus spread. Using current AI facial recognition software and hardware technology developed by Raphta and having quickly added the necessary thermal imaging technology, the company is now running pilot projects at the Netcare Gardens Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa and at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) was declared as one of the national healthcare facilities in Kenya for Covid-19. With Covid-19 patients in care at the hospital, the facility faces some of the same potential risks its South African counterparts have faced. Keeping high-risk employees and contractors on the frontline safe from infection, keeping healthcare facilities safe and secure for workers and patients who don’t have adequate contactless access control, and increasing cases of workers being infected in facilities are some of the key challenges. Asymptomatic people who are not being detected by thermal readings or screening-only systems, and having to manually monitor and enforce adherence to public health and safety protocols, are other core challenges.

KNH is the largest referral, teaching and research hospital in Kenya, with a bed capacity of over 2,000 beds. It caters for 80,000 inpatients and 500,000 outpatients annually. It not only serves the four counties in and around Nairobi as a primary hospital, but also acts as a referral for the regional hospitals in Kenya. It also offers healthcare services to patients from the Great Lakes region, Southern and Central Africa. Keeping patients safe during the Covid-19 pandemic is therefore a top priority for this in-demand healthcare centre.

Shuri Face Security is designed to provide contactless facial biometrics for access control – not using fingerprint biometric readers – to reduce the virus spread, helps to track the movement of traffic and crowds in spaces to enforce social distancing and the number of people in one area, and can create restricted zones to safeguard essential medical supplies and company assets.

The benefits of Contactless Biometrics are that it reduces the health risk from highly infectious viruses such as Covid-19 and ensures the safety of employees. It leverages already existing infrastructure, whether that is technology architecture or a CCTV network, it’s highly compliant with POPI and GDPR personal information security requirements, and it provides high level precision and confidence score for people with darker skin. This is important especially for healthcare facilities in Africa.