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The Impact of COVID-19 on African Tech Ecosystem

Izunna Okpala

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The Coronavirus (COVID-19) resulted in mass production shutdowns and supply chain disruptions due to port closures in China, creating global ripple effects in a unprecedented “twin supply-demand shock” across all the economic sectors.

More recently, it is stated that the number of cases in China is slowing down, raising hopes that it will eventually hit a peak and be regulated. Nevertheless, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported in early March that “annual global GDP growth is expected to decline to 2.4 per cent in 2020 as a whole, from an already sluggish 2.9 per cent in 2019, with growth likely even negative in the first quarter of 2020,” with financial markets plummeting in the days that follow.

There is a high degree of uncertainty about the spread of COVID-19 and its effects on Africa is expected to be significant, given the exposure of the continent to China. Cases in Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Tunisia have been registered as yet. When there is a major COVID-19 outbreak in Africa it could already overwhelm the region’s poor health-care systems.

Coronavirus outbreak would have a downside risk for short-term growth for sub-Saharan African economies, according to ratings agency Fitch, particularly in Ghana, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Gabon, and Nigeria – all countries that export large amounts of commodities to China.

Last year, Africa’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications sector was expected to draw high-value investments, with many telecommunications firms looking to develop infrastructure as well as the booming e-commerce market showing potential for regional M&A. The ambiguity surrounding COVID-19, however, means that anticipated investment could be delayed as tech investors anticipate volatility and recover from the short-term impacts.

Many major technology multinationals have said that the effects of lower demand for their goods in China and the effect of breaks in the supply chain of materials required to produce their goods have negatively impacted their companies. Some have been forced to shut down shops, warehouses, production facilities and offices and let workers work from home. Labor-intensive industries are the most affected by the virus and this has impacted planned ventures, production and releases of goods in this market. It is likely to have a ripple effect in Africa and also contribute to project delays.

It is expected that if people stop going to the cinemas for fear of picking up the virus, leave the way open for mainstream broadcasters and live streaming services to enjoy staying at home film and television watchers, the global theater industry will suffer. It would be important to see what improvements film studios are making to overcome this challenge. One alternative could be using on-demand transactional video platforms for new releases. Whatever methods are introduced, the effect is likely to disrupt the conventional dependence on theaters as the first release window and, eventually, the way the film distribution industry does business could be changed forever as a result.

Wuhan in China is the world’s largest manufacturer of optical fibers and cables, accounting for a quarter of the global market. A break in the supply chain for these goods could impact the African telecommunications industry and Africa’s search to introduce fourth industrial revolution technology infrastructure. Fiber optic cable is a critical component of high-speed broadband, which is important for and implementation of 4IR technology.

When more and more customers ignore public spaces, Nigeria is also expected to see an spike in online shopping. Nigeria banks are also likely to begin testing sites for disaster recovery to ensure continued trading and business continuity where operations are affected by COVID-19 office evacuations.

Articles

A conference on blockchain and health is scheduled to be held at the Africa Blockchain Developers Call.

Izunna Okpala

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The Africa Blockchain Developers Call (ABDC) Pan-African Bootcamp on blockchain technology has declared its intention to hold a weekend conference on incorporating blockchain technology into Africa’s health sector.

In an attempt to execute comprehensive blockchain training sessions and promote the implementation of specially designed applications for different sectors in Africa, the Bootcamp, officially launched on 5 September, has taken on a host of African developers.

The Bootcamp also features virtual weekend conferences on many use-cases for blockchain. These conferences are aimed at encouraging creative and comprehensive discussions on the implementation of blockchain technology in Africa, including platform presentations by businesses and panel sessions on many Blockchain issues. The first meeting, focusing on Blockchain in Finance, took place on September 5. It featured a keynote speech given by Professor Anicia Peters, University of Namibia Pro-Vice Chancellor for Science, Innovation and Development.

The next conference, scheduled to take place on October 3rd, will focus on the theme: Blockchain in Health. The keynote speech will be given by Arnab Paul, President of the Kolkata Chapter in India. Several organizations and startups will also give platform presentations via their representatives based on medical use cases for blockchain technology.

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Health

HealthPlus is experiencing a power struggle 2 years after obtaining $18 m from Alta Semper Capital

Izunna Okpala

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A press release apparently released on September 25 by the Board of HealthPlus, one of the largest integrated pharmacy chains in West Africa, confirmed that the company no longer needed the services of its founder, Bukky George, as CEO.

The decision to terminate the appointment of George came with the announcement of Chidi Okoro, the interim leader.

Okoro, a renowned pharmacist and management executive, is to take on the position of Chief Officer of Transformation. Okoro, akin to the position of a CEO, can simplify day-to-day management, help the company scale, and achieve profitability.

And a letter that appears to be from the board of HealthPlus to the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria (PCN) states that George “remains a shareholder of the company, a member of the board of the company, and may engage at board level in the company’s decision-making process.”

Afsane Jetha and Zachary Fond, Managing Partner & CEO, and Director of Alta Semper Capital, respectively, have signed it off.

From investment and partnership to a fight for power

Alta Semper Capital LLP is a private equity (PE) company that invests in Africa-wide healthcare and consumer businesses. In 2017, the PE company invested in Macro Pharma, a medicated cosmetics company in Egypt.

It made deals with HealthPlus and the Moroccan oncology and radiology clinic, Oncologie et Radiologie du Maroc (ODM), the following year.

The letter from Alta Semper Capital to the PCN

Source Techpoint

The HealthPlus investment was $18 million.

HealthPlus, founded by George in 1999, has expanded to more than 90 retail outlets, employing over 850 employees, including more than 150 pharmacists. In Nigeria, the company claims to be present in 11 of the 36 states in the world.

Operating branches in strategically placed suburban areas, airports, and shopping malls are also recognized.

Alta Semper Capital ‘s investment was to help HealthPlus grow its store footprint. In addition, to attract more talent, grow fulfillment centers and pursue initiatives in eCommerce.

The cash inflow, however, is said to have given the PE firm a majority stake in the company, which is one of the reasons why the company is facing problems at the moment.

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Apps & Services

Coronavirus: The Covid Tracker software from Ireland is out

Izunna Okpala

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Ireland’s just-released contact-tracing app this morning, where it joined Germany’s Corona Warn-App, which was released three weeks ago.

Gibraltar recently released its Beat Covid Gibraltar app, based on the Irish code.

The Republic’s Covid Tracker software is also the foundation of an app. Northern Ireland is promising to release within weeks. And now there’s a hint Wales could go the same way.

The focus henceforth would be on building a “decentralised” app with the toolkit offered by Apple and Google, which is also being used by Germany and Ireland among a growing list of others.

On Monday, Baroness Harding gave evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee alongside Simon Thompson, the Ocado executive she drafted in to take responsibility for the app.

Mr Thompson started by saying how urgent it was to get the job done. He went on to stress that collaboration with other countries and with Google and Apple meant that “we have growing confidence that we will have a product that will be good, so that the citizens can trust it in terms of its basic functionality”.

Bluetooth doubts

Now it is true that there is very little evidence that Bluetooth-based apps have so far been successful in tracking down people who came close to someone diagnosed with the virus.

People who point to the success of countries like South Korea ignore the fact that its efforts have been based not on Bluetooth but on the use of mass surveillance data, which would almost certainly prove unacceptable here.

Scientists at Trinity College in Dublin who advised the Irish app development team have produced a number of studies showing Bluetooth can be a very unreliable way to log contacts.

After tests on a bus they warned “the signal strength can be higher between phones that are far apart than phones close together, making reliable proximity detection based on signal strength hard or perhaps even impossible”.

‘Good enough’

Germany has celebrated the fact that in three weeks its app has been downloaded by 15 million people out of a population of 83 million. But there is little or no information about whether it is performing well in its core mission of contact tracing.

Then again, countries like Germany, Ireland and Switzerland have taken the view that an app does not have to be technically perfect, and that if there is any chance of it making even a small contribution to the battle against the virus, it’s worth a go.

Countries like Germany might be tempted to point out that they have had that “cake” in the form of an effective manual tracing programme all along. Incidentally, if public trust is vital to the app’s rollout, the people of the Isle of Wight may have something to say about that.

Following the trial of the original, scrapped NHSX app on the island, some residents have been asking what will happen to their data. We’ve asked too – and have yet to receive an answer.

While the Covid Tracker app has been launched by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic of Ireland, people living across the border in Northern Ireland are able to download it and use it.

Its terms and conditions state that it is intended to be used by anyone living in or visiting the island of Ireland.

They also state that its availability for people living or visiting in Northern Ireland “is intended to help us to inform people living in border areas and to trace cases in those areas”.

Anyone using the app in NI is able to activate the contact tracing facility and can also self-report symptoms using the “Covid Check-In section”.

However, in the section which asks users to enter personal details, including gender and age-range, those living in Northern Ireland can’t add their county of residence. Only counties in the Republic of Ireland are listed – not the six in NI.

It isn’t yet clear what impact this has on the functionality of the app for NI users.

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