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Technology in Sierra Leone
Ranking as one of the least developed nations in the world, Sierra Leone aspires to increase development through investments in advanced technologies. President Julius Maada Bio’s ambitious plans for digitization center around the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation led by Dr. David Moinina Sengeh. The creation of DSTI could have a revolutionary effect on the government’s capabilities to help its citizens and progress the technology in Sierra Leone.

What is DSTI?

DSTI is the main element of the Sierra Leone National Innovation and Digital Strategy. It emerged in 2018 and is based on the philosophy of “digitization for all.” Its primary mission is to use science and innovation to promote the Medium-Term National Development Plan, which strives to improve people’s lives through education, inclusive growth and a strong economy. Furthermore, DSTI hopes to make Sierra Leone a country where innovation can thrive and where people of all ages can come together to lead their own start-ups and initiatives.

Headed by the country’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Sengeh, DSTI has created an opportunity for the development of technology in Sierra Leone for its citizens. One of those opportunities presents itself in the form of a partnership between UNICEF Sierra Leone Country Office and DSTI. The organizations have come together to create government processes that revolve around the use of data for successful decision-making. The UNICEF Office of Innovation team provides its expertise and advises DSTI regularly. This support will strengthen and secure the partnership and aims to improve the lives of Sierra Leone’s women and children.

Current Technology in Sierra Leone

In 2020, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported DSTI with a grant of $131,130. This grant assisted the plan for a viable and cost-effective drone-delivery system for Sierra Leone’s medical supply chain. Drones could potentially provide access to places in Sierra Leone that others previously thought were too remote or too difficult to navigate. The efficacy of these drones allows authorities in Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation to have on-demand delivery for essential medical supplies; restock rural community health centers and hospitals in a timely, cost-effective manner; extend limited diagnostic coverage and decrease response time to pathogen outbreaks. DSTI has joined forces with the National Medical Supply Agency and development partners and intends to plan a five-year project that integrates a nationwide medical delivery service in Sierra Leone using drones.

In April 2019, Sierra Leone became a drone-testing site to better the lives of children in the more rural areas of the nation. UNICEF and the government of Sierra Leone established a drone corridor aiming to develop and test drones for “aerial imagery and transportation.” DSTI and the Ministry of Transport and Aviation lead the project for the drone corridor. In addition to aiding Sierra Leone’s medical system, the drone initiative will set up education programs. These programs will help locals build the skills needed to use and maintain the drones.

The Importance of Technological Advancement

In September 2019, President Bio revealed the first portable DNA sequencer. This sequencer can provide quick, efficient information in multiple fields such as medicine, agriculture, food, water and education. Additionally, police can utilize the sequencer for investigating sex crimes. This is a huge breakthrough for Sierra Leone because President Bio had declared a national rape emergency earlier that year.

All these technological and scientific breakthroughs have a transformative effect on Sierra Leone’s government and its ability to meet the needs of its citizens. Along with improving the nation’s development, Sierra Leone could provide a blueprint for the rest of Africa and recognize the nation’s economic potential.

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Technological Innovation in Sierra Leone
After a civil war in the 1990s and early 2000s and an Ebola outbreak in 2014, Sierra Leone is slowly recovering by investing in its future through technological innovation. The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, stated that “Science and technology is the bedrock for the development of any modern economy.” With its labor force consisting of more than 60 percent of subsistence farming and its GDP being agriculture-based, the West African country has its sights on technology to help diversify its economy. UNICEF, Sierra Leone’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) and businesses are working together to improve the lives of Sierra Leoneans.

UNICEF and DSTI

President Bio created the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) in 2018 to further his vision of developing a technology sector in the country. Dr. David Sengeh is the first Chief Innovation Officer of DSTI. UNICEF and DSTI have partnered to support the use of digital data. One result of the partnership is the Free Quality School Education Initiative. The initiative uses data science to help grant free education to every child and give fast feedback on test scores and the quality of education. MagicBox is an open-source data-sharing platform that UNICEF is investing in which includes partners such as Google and IBM. People can use MagicBox to map epidemics in order to reduce the spread of disease and it has helped Sierra Leone since 2014. Its first use was during the 2014 Ebola Crisis in West Africa. It can also collect private and public data on education and poverty.

Drone Medicine Transportation

UNICEF and the DSTI are also testing drones that could deliver medicine and vaccines. Drones could also send pictures and digital data of natural disasters to mitigate hazards to the public. Sierra Leone is the fourth country that UNICEF drone-tested. Aerial imaging, used for mapping infrastructure, transportation and agriculture, helps elevate the country’s development. Since it is one of the least developed countries in the world, drone data pertaining to infrastructure is a good first step in development. For example, only 10 percent of the roads are paved, making transportation slow and difficult. During the rainy seasons, rural floods cut off communities for up to six months. Drones could reach the communities, especially those with HIV and AIDS.

GEN-350

The GEN-350 is a new technological innovation in Sierra Leone that produces drinking water out of the air. Watergen created the generator called GEN-350 in its mission to provide affordable water to countries that lack clean drinking water. The generator simply needs electricity to operate. The GEN-350 can produce up to 900 liters of water a day. About 50 percent of the population lacks clean drinking water, so the generator reduces the possibility of waterborne disease. Waterborne diseases are one of the main causes of death in the country. Water sources for Sierra Leoneans include ponds, puddles and wells that chemicals from mining and agriculture have contaminated. Watergen’s GEN-350 is a long-term solution to clean and affordable water for those in poverty in Sierra Leone and the world.

Technological Innovation Ongoing

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $773,000 grant to DSTI’s GIS Portal in 2019 expresses increased interest in Dr. Sengeh’s goal to provide “real-time information for timely access and receipt of services, and optimize service delivery specifically in the provision of maternal healthcare services.” Although technological innovation in Sierra Leone is in its infancy, the government shows initiative with the creation of the DSTI.

A civil war between 1991 and 2002 tarnished its economy, but the country is seeing development as companies such as Watergen and organizations such as UNICEF provide solutions to alleviating the effects of poverty, such as poor education and polluted water.

– Lucas Schmidt
Photo: Flickr