Mandela University’s Centre for Community Technologies’ rapid response to COVID-19

07/05/2020

Digital technology has taken centrestage and so too has the work of the University’s Centre for Community Technologies (CCT).

With more than one third of the world in lockdown and an urgent need for solutions in the fight of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reliance and role of digital technology has become more crucial than ever before.

As such, CCT is leading the digital charge as part of the University’s response to the pandemic in partnership with the metro and province.

“There is recognition in the importance of how technology can assist us to make far quicker decisions and to be more ready (for fighting COVID-19),” said CCT Director Professor Darelle van Greunen.

Apart from the team’s work as part of the University’s Coronavirus Co-ordinating Committee’s collective response to the COVID-19 challenges, Prof van Greunen is facilitating the work of the IT and Data workstream for the Metro on the Joint Operating Committee.

“I am so proud of the CCT team. They are working so hard. They’ve given up public holiday and weekends because they appreciate the urgency of our efforts.”

The 14 members of the team are working on a number of different projects in fighting the pandemic, which as at 6 May had seen the death toll rise to more than 260 000 people globally, and 148 in South Africa.

Very briefly, some of the projects are:

Automated Facilities and Stock Management tool

Working with a team from industry and government, this new tool will be used across the province to better manage the vast array of stock and equipment needed, such as beds, medical machinery like ventilators, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and the like.

Self-screening Assessment Tool

This easy-to-use tool to check your COVID-19 status is based on guidelines provided by the Department of Health. It is also available in isiXhosa.  The tools are available at https://www.mandela.ac.za/News-and-Events/Coronavirus-Information.

COVID-19 Contact Trace and Track Tool

A web-based solution for the purpose of contact tracing and tracking, COVTOR, is being developed.  The solution will enable any person who was in contact with a known COVID-19 positive case, to monitor themselves for a period of 14 days.  The solution allows for the monitoring of the key symptoms and should a person present a symptom, he/she will trigger an alert and be advised to present to a testing facility. 

Yabelana App

A simple mobile app, originally designed to help older people to access services in some of South Africa's big townships, is now rolled out country wide to allow communities to access information during lockdown. Users can search and find service providers in any category, make contact with them and provide feedback about the service provided. This encourages citizen participation and accountable service delivery. Yabelana is context specific, and gives a wide range of information, from health care and social services to councillors’ contacts and events.

Prof van Greunen says service providers and citizens can benefit now by putting their services on the app and allowing citizens to see which providers are open and can be of service during lockdown.

“In so doing, it will minimise risk as citizens will know which service providers closest to them are operational. It will also allow them to be in contact with the service providers to establish whether they have what the person is looking for.”

The app can be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store or users can SMS 30173 to subscribe to event notifications.  The service directory can also be accessed by dialing *134*237#

Educational materials

CCT has adapted and developed a series of educational leaflets, videos and podcasts in isiXhosa and English about preventing the spread of the virus which are being widely used by a range of groupings in civil society.

ICT Readiness of Schools

E-schools are the future. But are traditional South African schools ready for it?

To evaluate and assess the e-readiness of all South African government schools, the CCT has developed an easy downloadable app, called the e-ready ICT maturity assessment tool. The app is an initiative of the department of science and innovation and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) with input from the Department of Basic Education.

In light of the need to rapidly expand online learning, CCT is working on a policy brief linked to a strategy to assist schools to have the correct ICT infrastructure in place to facilitate learning and teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic and post the pandemic.