The use of technology during a COVID-19 emergency was piloted in China when the epidemic started late last year.
By Justin Ojangole
Recently, President Yoweri Museveni received modern video conferencing equipment for use in Uganda's fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The equipment, which will be used by the Ministry of Health, will enable quick communication between the ministry headquarters and field medical personnel, a key need in times of health crisis.
"Out of this pandemic, we must learn new ways of doing business," said the President. Later, he tweeted: "These facilities will allow the medical staff to conduct real-time medical services, interactive and communicate, including on their phones and computers, without much risk of physical contact."
The use of technology during a COVID-19 emergency was piloted in China when the epidemic started late last year. In Wuhan city, Hubei province, where the virus was first detected, 5G network technology was installed in Huoshenshan hospital to help in data collection, remote diagnosis, and medical monitoring services.
The 5G technology, which many users began adopting in 2019, is the latest - fifth generation - in wireless communications technologies that support cellular data networks. The technology is slowly spreading across the world. In developed countries like China, service providers are upgrading their telecommunications infrastructure to offer this functionality.
In Wuhan, the 5G technology was also provided by Huawei, a leading Chinese global provider of information and communications technology infrastructure and smart devices. Huawei provided the latest networking systems, survey and design, and fibre installations. It is the same company that donated the equipment that the President received on behalf of the Uganda Government.
Huo Shen Shan hospital will go down in history as one of the greatest wonders that China achieved. An emergency specialty field hospital, the facility was built in 10 days - from January 23 to February 2, 2020 - in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Obviously, Uganda is far from that point in time when we can build a hospital in 10 days. But the way the Government has handled the coronavirus crisis so far shows that Uganda has the resilience and human capacity to deal with global emergencies.
We should, therefore, leverage this momentum, to introduce new technologies that could help ease the coronavirus burden. Already some African countries and cities in lockdown have turned to telemedicine - using telecommunication and information technologies to provide clinical health care from a distance.
Telemedicine enables patients to remotely seek expert opinion and advice from medical practitioners. If, for instance, there is suspected a coronavirus case in Kalangala Islands, it should be possible for experts at Mulago to guide a local medical facility on how to handle the case, including reviews.
In other words, during this lockdown, we need not all crowd Mulago hospital seeking help. Rather many of our current problems could be handled by a doctor from his house, including using videos to transmit medical images and health informatics data to where the patient is. This includes temperature testing, continuous remote monitoring, thermal imaging, and other functions
With fast internet and modern technology, you can continue with online meetings, teleconferences, online orders, and daily business. In China, Huawei installed free SMS and the ‘Learn Anytime Education Alliance' platforms to provide online primary and secondary teaching and training. Modern video conferencing systems allowed organisations with less than 1,000 employees open free online accounts and to run real-time online meetings with up to 100 participants.
Companies like Huawei, which already established in Uganda, can help. As a country, we need to urgently scale up information and technological capacity. The coronavirus, more than anything else in recent times, demonstrates this. Our day-to-day lives have been disrupted in ways that we never imagined. Today, for instance, we are encouraged to do on-line shopping; strategies that helped Wuhan to overcome the coronavirus.
When I visited Wuhan in 2018, I found that the use of technology in day-to-day life was widespread. Many people would order and pay for their shopping online. That time, the city was operating on 4G networks. Now with 5G networks, as supplied by Huawei and others, high-speed internet and ease of on-line access will become the norm in Wuhan.
With the coronavirus pandemic now largely under control in China, countries like Uganda need to appreciate that technology played a key role in the fight against COVID-19. The 5G applications created by Huawei, for instance, enabled people in Wuhan to quickly report suspected coronavirus cases to medical personnel and to easily receive expert advise.
Based on the success of 5G connectivity in Wuhan, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is now encouraging other telecommunications companies to adopt 5G technology to help in the fight against coronavirus. Uganda's ICT ministry should borrow a leaf so we can fast-track 5G technologies to provide cheap, fast, seamless connectivity.
The writer is a publisher of China- Uganda Magazine and Executive Member of China - Africa Friendship Association.