Increasing Access To Information And Communication Technology Literacy In Rural Areas In Response To Covid-19 Pandemic

BACKGROUND

The global community has been overwhelmed by the novel corona virus disease (COVID-19) pandemic that started in Wuhan China towards the end of 2019. To date COVID-19 has claimed close to 823,000 lives with almost 2.9 million cases. As other countries are progressing well in managing this crisis the magnitude on the African continent is yet to be defined due to the relatively earlier stages of this pandemic and modeling predicts that approximately 300,000 deaths could happen.

East Africa has Among the East African states, Uganda appears to have somewhat managed to score significantly in the fight against COVID-19 with 75 cases identified and 46 recoveries so far. However, the increased number of cases in neighboring trade partner countries such as Kenya and Tanzania that acted as supply lifelines to the mainland people in Uganda threatens these achievements.

The WHO has advised widespread use of preventative measures in place include; active cases identification; contact tracing; quarantine; social isolation; strict infection control methods such as hand washing; travel bans with the aim of minimizing human-human disease transmission1. The effectiveness of such programs has relied on community engagement and effective communication using information technology (ICT) platforms such as Facebook, to increase coverage of health campaigns and the desired public health impact.

Similarly, global businesses models have shifted towards on-line business to sustain life and essential services of society bench marked on the developed countries such as Australia, Ireland and United States Of America. In Uganda such interventions have not been reported and if available their coverage could be suffocated by limited access to such services and low literacy levels.

Principles of communications indicate that information dissemination is complete when the receiver or end-user successfully receives, decodes such information and provides the desired feedback to the sender. Any factor limiting such flow of events significantly affects the achievement of set objectives. In the case of COVID-19 whose health promotion campaigns have relied significantly on user friendly ICT platforms to achieve wider coverage, increasing ICT awareness especially to the vulnerable communities would spread up control efforts. So far, almost 90% of effective ICT users live in urbanized areas thereby creating a communication gap with the rural communities2.

Based on that observation above, we started a company operating under Novus Terra Uganda Limited 9 years ago to fill this unmet need in the areas of Mubende, Kassanda and Masaka specializing in increasing ICT literacy and coverage to the local people. We have worked with a number of youth organizations and business enterprises in Uganda and worldwide to bridge this technology gap through training and innovations suitable for the local communities. We recently conducted a survey targeting the youth who are the main pillars of societal transformation and we found that in Kassanda district only 10% (numbers over total studied) had access to smart phones which are the main sources of modern computer applications. Of these < 17% could access information with the help of working smart phone (Novus Terra Information). Further document review indicated that the Eastern region had < 10% Internet users and access to smart phones. This leaves approximately a 90% gap of individuals without smart phones and unlikely to use Internet 3.

Therefore in the COVID-19 setting where most services such as COVID-19 contact tracing, risk assessment, health promotion, telehealth, on-line business and case reporting are shifting towards information technology, it’s mandatory to increase awareness on ICT use through establishing ICT support hubs in rural areas to leverage our 9-year experience. In this project, we propose to contribute to increased access to information and communication technology services to rural areas in response to covid-19 pandemic in Mityana, Mubende, Kassanda, greater Masaka regions to compliment line ministerial operations. We shall specifically; establish computer youth training programs through a training of trainers model from each sub-county that could be deployed for community support; gather reported contact community information about possible COVID-19 exposure through call centers and volunteers; produce simplified community awareness health information into locally consumable formats in terms of visual imagery, language and audio forms; educate people on how to use smart phones as a source of rightful COVID-19 information; and develop user friendly applications for end-end business and telehealth. Our strategy lies in using community perspectives into transferable and user-friendly ICT interfaces or products that could speed up the fight against COVID-19 as well as allowing quick community recovery post-COVID-19 at individual, community, health system and economic levels. Our piloted and prototyped products range from graphic designing, web-designing, financial systems, on-line communication platforms among others under Novus Terra Limited.

Our proposal lies in the Public service Delivery theme, addressing the following sub-themes:

  1. Digital education platforms
  2. Collaborative tools for on-line engagement and meetings
  3. On-line business management tools.

Together lets kick COVID-19 out of Uganda for a healthier, progressive and resilient communities.

Team composition:

  1. Noah Kirigwajjo (BCSC, Ms WDZM)
  2. Derick Muyanja .
  3. Dr. George Williams Mbogo (PhD)
  4. Engineer Anthony Ereng
  5. Simon Robert Kununka (BCSC, PGDME, Ms HI), Planning and Implementation.
  6. Harriet Nansubuga (BSN, MPH), Designing Health Promotion Material.
  7. Dr. Sheila Nankoberanyi (PhD), Scientific And Gender Inclusion.

Objectives:

  1. To establish computer youth training programs through a training of trainers model from each sub-county that could be deployed for community support;
  2. To gather reported contact community information about possible COVID-19 exposure through call centers and volunteers
  3. To produce simplified community awareness health information into locally consumable formats in terms of visual imagery, language and audio forms.
  4. To educate people on how to use smart phones as a source of rightful COVID-19 information; and develop user friendly applications for end-end business and telehealth.
  5. To manage on-line media communication campaigns using a top-bottom approach.

Implementation plan:

This project will use a collaborative strategy with the line ministry, the local government, the catholic churches and the Non-governmental organizations affiliated to Novus Terra over the last 9 years to tap into the community youth capacity. We shall also use technical expertise from our global partners at Bio Translate International to establish Australian benchmarks in terms of technology and best practices. These partnerships will assist in accountability, resource mobilization and faster implementation of project deliverables.

The project will be implemented in quarter system from May-July (Q1), Aug-Oct (Q2) and Nov-Jan (Q3)

Objective Time line     Responsible person
  Q1 Q2 Q3 Novus Terra, ICT ministry, KMD
  Q1 Q2 Q3 Novus Terra, ICT ministry, KMD, BIO Translate International
  Q1 Q2 Q3 Novus Terra, ICT ministry, BIO Translate International
  Q1 Q2 Q3 Novus Terra, BIO Translate International
  Q1 Q2 Q3 Novus Terra, BIO Translate International

Budget

1 https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

2 https://researchictafrica.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019_After-Access-The-State-of-ICT-in-Uganda.pdf

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5458569/