We need solutions that address the rising inequality

Solutions to COVID-19 need to be global to have an impact


Natalia Florman

3 years ago | 2 min read

“Digital technology is revolutionizing healthcare delivery. Worldwide, digital tools are leading to better and faster healthcare.” — Dr. Ann Aerts

Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a hackathon for COVID-19, where I worked on a healthcare app where users could log their symptoms and travel history, and forward this to their GP to assist with remote diagnosing.

Wireframes for the app I worked on in the hackathon

Similar apps are currently in use, helping people to self-diagnose and provide location data on where the virus is spreading.

Yet, huge proportions of the global population do not have a smartphone connected to the internet. These apps are limited in their potential until we can enable access to the internet for millions. Otherwise, we must think more creatively.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates, making in-roads in the developing world and threatening all of humanity, we need to take immediate action to ensure no one is left behind.

This unprecedented crisis shows that nobody is safe until we are all safe. And it shows, with no ambiguity, that we will not unleash the full potential of broadband until we are all connected.”
ITU Secretary-General and Commission Co-Vice Chair Houlin Zhao

We know that Coronavirus disproportionately affects those in lower-paid jobs, those unable to work from home and many front line workers who are disproportionately lower paid.

The FT writes about a huge proportion of Americans who lack access to the internet, who rely on public libraries or free WiFi in eateries, which are now closed.

There are companies and campaigns trying to solve this, especially as education moves online by using memory sticks with recorded lessons or providing internet hotspots to areas that are not connected.

However, this is a global problem. Approximately 3.6 billion people are completely offline, largely based in developing countries (ITU). The gaps in connectivity are due to lack of infrastructure, affordability or skills.

On top of this, the gender gap in access to the internet is particularly stark in developing countries, especially across Africa (Ray Downs, 2017, UPI).

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) recently launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform to ensure that networks are kept resilient and telecoms services are available to all — especially the health and education sectors.

In large parts of Africa, we have seen telephone banking provide access to online banking for millions. Can we develop an SMS based solution to make targeted solutions for these users?

While we are all anxiously waiting for a vaccine to be developed, with the hopes that the whole world will have access to it, how can we help these digital solutions serve a wider audience, including those who do not have access to the internet?


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Natalia Florman







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