, , ,

COVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of Congo: How Big Data Is Helping

COVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of CongoCOVID-19 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has devastating effects, infecting over 27,000 individuals by March 2021 and putting intense pressure on the healthcare system. The DRC has already been dealing with cholera, ebola and a measles epidemic in 2019, leaving the healthcare system particularly vulnerable.

The COVID-19 Situation in the DRC

While this nation has faced many struggles since the rapid spread of the virus in the summer of 2020, big data provides hope for a more organized and effective response to COVID-19 in the DRC. The DRC has not had a census since 1984 and since then, the nation has split its 11 provinces into 26, leading to an even more disjointed understanding of the DRC’s population. Big data via mobile companies could allow for updated population estimates and health infrastructure data leading to a better COVID-19 response.
UNICEF has improved mass media communication in the DRC and trained nearly 100 media professionals on warning signs of COVID-19 to allow professionals to inform the public on COVID-19 better. Since these efforts, 25 million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo were reached by mass media to prevent the spread of the disease.

How Technology Can Help Slow the Spread

Ongoing advancements in big data and the availability of technology worldwide have allowed many countries to make better forecasts for the spread of COVID-19. These advancements allowed the DRC’s government to make more information-based policy decisions.
Oxford University’s Big Data Institute has studied the benefits of using mobile apps to provide data on a nation’s citizens that would allow for a more efficient and succinct response to COVID-19. Nearly half of COVID-19 transmissions happen before symptoms arise, which means mobile apps that notify individuals who may have been exposed provide a quick and widespread response to stopping the spread.

Mobile Big Data and the DRC’s Fight Against COVID-19

In May 2020, mobile operators in the Democratic Republic of Congo, namely Africell, Organe and Vodacom, agreed to collaborate to use their big data analytics to provide information for the government’s response to COVID-19. This agreement led to a nationwide dashboard that allows health authorities to track mobility among the population and across different health districts to trace the spread of the virus.

Since the introduction of COVID-19 in the DRC, the virus has spread quickly from the central, populated districts to other provinces. Utilizing big mobile data to track this spread will allow better informed policy choices from the government. Analysis of this data has also led to updated information on the stock levels and needs of health care facilities in the DRC.
An example of the utilization of this big data is when the DRC’s government took confinement measures and prevented travel to the province of Gombe. Big mobile data companies in the DRC have provided the government with call detail records (CDRs) that have shown a 70% drop in travelers to Gombe after implementing the rules, showing high adherence to government recommendations.

Future Measures to Use Technology to Stop the Spread

Big mobile providers are working with the Ministry of Health to predict hotspots for COVID-19 in the DRC in the future using data that tracks population mobility. Looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, big data analytics provide hope for more efficient government policies and a strengthened relationship between healthcare facilities and the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

– Tatiana Nelson
Photo: Flickr