It is no secret that one of the biggest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is the scarcity of testing kits. Testing has been emphasized as being critical to the containment of the virus. Indeed, the Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has underscored the need to test many more people, as the key to containing the spread of the disease.
Following the calls for increased testing, many countries had intensified their efforts in carrying out more daily testing, but that has also come with its own challenges. As the need for testing increased, the limited availability of these testing kits became more apparent. In addition to that, the integrity and waiting time of the testing process was also important as a wrong diagnosis would be dangerous. Tried testing processes included the mainstay Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test which takes a long time, considering the logistics of taking samples to the lab and the technicalities involved, there is the molecular testing which is believed to be 99.9% accurate but equally slow, (this is what is being used in Nigeria) and there is the simple antigen test that takes about 20 minutes for the results to be ready.
Following testing, other attendant issues were thrown open. These included: limited hospital facilities to accommodate the confirmed patients, increased wastage of test kits coming from uninfected people and the outright panic from the increasing number of confirmed cases.
With all these concerns, it was important that the government and its agencies find a way to test more, reduce the wait time, while also catering adequately for the patients. Different countries have devised various means of solving this problem. While some increased their testing capacity, others resolved to test only people with significant history of risk, or symptoms, of the disease.
Committed to providing a solution as part of its contribution to the fight against the virus, Interswitch Group, through its health-tech subsidiary, e-Clat Healthcare Limited, built and started activating a user-friendly, locally-nuanced software application for state governments across Nigeria. This software application is designed to be a first-line intervention tool with which members of the public can perform remote self-assessment to determine their risk and predisposition to the coronavirus.
The e-Clat software platform analyses users’ information provided from answers to a series of questions around risk factors, recent exposure, observed symptoms, health and travel history. Upon analysis, users are thereafter advised whether to self-quarantine, visit a healthcare facility for further testing, or just keep safe.
With the citizens being able to determine their predisposition to the virus from the comfort of their homes, they in turn reduce the pressure on the already stretched health facilities and professionals. The tool helps in minimising the risk of exposure to the virus for both the users and the health workers. Importantly, it helps to curb wastage of testing kits on uninfected individuals.
In addition to helping the citizen determine the risk predisposition, the platform provides updated information and basic advisory on the virus. Users can locate the sampling, treatment and isolation centres closest to them. With its interactive interface, the platform facilitates further virtual consultation with verified health professionals; meaning infected persons can stay in their homes and access consultation as to whether their symptoms give cause for alarm or not.
Designed to be functional to people at all levels, the self -assessment platform is multi-channel; it can be accessed via web, voice prompt, USSD and mobile. To ensure inclusiveness, the platform can be customized and tailored to local requirements, e.g. enabling Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to support local languages.
Beyond its expediency to the users, the platform also provides epidemiological mapping of COVID-19 trends within the states. It uses its capabilities to track and aggregate insights into geographical heat-maps which highlight areas in which predisposition is deemed to be higher, to optimize decisioning and ultimately enable prioritization of interventions, a key value proposition to public healthcare authorities.
Following Interswitch’s partnership with state governments in Nigeria, the self-assessment platform is being deployed across 23 states. Currently, the platform has been deployed in eight states with unique USSD codes. They are; Edo *723*19*1#, Ogun *723*19*2#, Delta *723*19*3#, Oyo *723*19*6#, Lagos *723*19*7#, Kaduna *723*19*8#, Yobe *723*19*9# and Jigawa *723*19*10#.
With this solution, Interswitch is making a significant contribution to the fight against the COVID-19 scourge by lowering the pressure on the health facilities and professionals, reducing the panic arising from the increasing confirmed cases, helping the citizenry to effectively sustain physical distancing, especially around medical facilities, and helping state governments with useful analytics to guide effective decision-making needed to fight the spread of the virus.