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June 23, 2020

Why ITU supports Africa’s new platform for health and economic action

By Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General

*This article is adapted from remarks I gave today at the launch of the new Africa Communication and Information Platform (ACIP) for Heath and Economic Action.

I want to congratulate Dr. Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, and all the different partners, on the creation of a platform that will reach hundreds of millions of devices and people in Africa.

The Africa Communication and Information Platform (ACIP) for Heath and Economic Action will enable governments, ministries and COVID-19 task forces to better use digitally available and mobile-generated data in decision-making on key issues regarding health, economic livelihoods and food security.

ITU’s full support

I am pleased to affirm ITU’s commitment to this public-private effort and am pleased to announce that ITU accepts the invitation to be represented on the Board.

At ITU, we take our commitment to health very seriously. It is an important component of our multi-stakeholder response to COVID-19.

We joined WHO, UNICEF, and global operators to deliver vital health messaging via mobile phones to all those who are still lacking an Internet connection.

We have been working in collaboration with WHO’s Regional Office for Africa to raise awareness among governments about how to use mobile and digital communications networks to better respond to the pandemic.

We are scaling up projects that can improve the resilience of populations and communities particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Through the Smart Villages project in Niger, for example, a free voice service for COVID-19 prevention has been implemented in different local languages.

Cross-industry collaboration and regulatory approval are key

In the health and economic fight against COVID-19, a close collaboration between health and ICT industries is more important than ever. This is the message I took to the G20 Health and Digital Ministers during their respective recent extraordinary meetings.

In its Agenda for Action for Faster and Better Recovery, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, convened jointly by the ITU and UNESCO, has called for leveraging connectivity, broadcasting networks as well as digital platforms to support health responses, as well as the use of AI for COVID-19 prevention and monitoring, and to support medical institutions.

The Joint Digital Development Action Plan and Call for Action on COVID-19 Crisis Response, agreed by the World Bank, ITU, GSMA and World Economic Forum, has noted the importance to leverage telemedicine, digital services and apps to foster e-health and support healthcare systems.

I am proud that, according to the information submitted to our REG4COVID platform, set up for governments to share their digital policies employed to respond to COVID-19, a number of governments and industry players have heeded to such calls.

Today, I am calling on African Regulators and ICT Ministers to back the new platform for health and economic Action. Regulatory approval is essential. The support of telecommunications regulators from each country is needed.

In this effort, we cannot leave anyone behind. And for that, we cannot continue business as usual.

Seizing the momentum to invest in ICTs

Let us use the momentum around COVID-19 to bring digital solutions to billions, including in Africa.

Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data are at the core of the platform we are launching today. Emerging technologies such as AI, cloud computing, 5G, and many others are powerful tools to tackle Africa’s most pressing challenges, including COVID-19.

I was pleased that the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa invited ITU and UNIDO to work on several projects on the continent, including 5G. ITU is committed to working with UNECA to build a vibrant Digital Africa.

A good opportunity ahead

With initiatives like the One Africa Network, Africa has shown that it can lead the way. And with ITU’s next World Telecommunication Development Conference taking place on African soil next year, we have a unique opportunity to speed up the development of digital society on the continent.

I wish the Africa Communication and Information Platform for Health and Economic Action great success.

May ITU and African countries continue to leverage ICTs to help defeat COVID-19. And may we continue to work together to make the African continent safer, stronger, and more connected.

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Why ITU supports Africa’s new platform for health and economic action

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