Ghana currently has over 5000 confirmed cases of the Coronavirus. To keep the situation manageable, the African country is using the Luscii app to guide people with symptoms remotely.
Dr. Maxwell Antwi is a gynecologist and, since 2012, member of staff at PharmAccess, a foundation that aims to make good health care widely accessible across Africa. At the time of the interview, twenty Covid-19 patients were admitted to the University of Ghana Medical Centre, a hospital in Accra, where PharmAccess has partnered to use Luscii app against corona. Some patients are on a ventilator. The hospital has been designated as the treatment center of expertise for Covid -19 by the government.
‘Ghana was initially under lockdown’, says Antwi, ‘which has since been lifted. Gatherings of large groups of people are still prohibited. This means that schools, churches and restaurants are still closed. There is a lot of testing taking place and the mortality rate among the infected lies below 1%. In that sense, we are doing well compared with other countries.
Antwi is a coordinator of Covid Connect, the Ghanaian version of The Corona Check that has proved so successful in the Netherlands. The app allows people to submit health information on a daily basis. A medical team at the university hospital in Accra assesses the information and contacts patients if necessary. Users then receive health advice or are either referred to a testing location or the hospital.
Dutchman Kees van Lede took the initiative to bring the Luscii app to Africa. He works for CarePay, a PharmAccess partner that allows African citizens to save money through their phones to finance healthcare. He knows better than anyone how widespread mobile phones are in Africa. When he read about The Corona Check in the Netherlands, he immediately saw an opportunity.
Two weeks after the first contact with Luscii, Covid Connect was active in Ghana. A remarkable achievement, considering there was so much to organize: setting up a medical service center, training medical staff in remote guidance and translating all protocols to the Ghanaian situation. Even the program in the app itself had to be adjusted. For example, not everyone in Ghana has a thermometer, so the app was altered to allow users to estimate their body temperature.
Maxwell Antwi views the quick start as a team effort. ‘I had an easy role as coordinator between PharmAccess, the hospital and the Ministry of Health. Enthusiasm was high among all parties. And every doctor wanted to participate. We even had to make a selection! Five doctors are always present at the service center. In total, forty doctors have been trained to guide people remotely’.
SMS also in the pipeline
Covid Connect is currently available to two million Ghanaians. At the moment, the app only works with modern Android and Apple software, but the aim is to expand the service to be available via SMS, too. ‘Almost everyone has access to a mobile phone in Ghana’, Antwi explains, ‘but modern smartphones are less widespread. If we can offer our service via SMS as well, then we are able to assist many more people. And after the Corona epidemic, we can use the Luscii platform for other illnesses. We are learning a lot right now’.
Antwi does not know what the future will bring. ‘It is a new virus, so how it spreads continues to be a guess. I expect about 6,000 infections during the peak around June. I don’t think it will get as bad as in the US, Europe or China. We have a young population and the Ministry of Health is a tremendous help to doctors and nurses’.