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April 2020

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Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 lock down and curfew E-Pass for essential travel is here

Over 1000 paper applications were submitted to the Sierra Leone COVID-19 Emergency Operation Center (EOC) during a 72-hour lockdown in early April. When additional interdistrict travel restrictions were put in place, the manual process required additional manpower and time. The Government has now announced an indefinite extension on the lockdown and curfew to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has killed 4 Sierra Leoneans this week. 

The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS), Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), and Niche Solutions created the Electronic Pass (E-PASS) Management System (http://www.epass.eoc.gov.sl) as part of an integrated ICT response to COVID-19. The electronic issuance of passes will now make it easier and faster for the EOC to process requests and authorize the movement of essential goods, and service providers during the COVID lockdown and curfew in a transparent and auditable process.  

“We are mobilizing tech resources from within our existing ecosystem to provide government and citizens with the tools they need to stop the spread of the pandemic while mitigating the impact on essential services,” said Michala Mackay, COO, and Director, DSTI. 

“The public should continue to practice social distancing, wash their hands regularly, and respect all government measures put in place to flatten the curve. In order to support the fight against COVID-19, the E-Pass would only be issued to individuals and organizations who offer essential services and functions that are necessary, during this pandemic.”

Essential services include goods and other supplies that Sierra Leoneans need to survive, such as medical supplies, food, public works (electricity, and water), telecommunications, and gasoline. Essential workers are the personnel needed to maintain essential services such as health care workers, security personnel, social and emergency relief. 

A consortium of public and private technology experts will continue to develop tools that would enhance and strengthen existing systems to support the government efforts in response to COVID-19. Niche Technologies is the lead private sector partner on the COVID-19 Lockdown and Curfew E-Pass. Niche’s Chief Executive Officer was a former Director of Planning and Strategy in Sierra Leone’s National Ebola Response Center. He brings his crisis response experience and technical expertise to the forefront.

Mahmoud Idriss, CEO, Niche Technologies in Sierra Leone

“One of the most notable differences  that I see this time around is that the ICT response has been swift and efficient. When we came in as non-state actors, everyone knew their expected deliverables and we helped put the wheel in motion,” said Mahmoud Idriss, CEO Niche Technologies.

“It is not uncommon for the Government to have many partners around the table trying to get the same thing done. The problem is how quickly you can get everyone to agree on what they’re supposed to do. The leadership at DSTI has been effective in removing the hurdles and the bottlenecks that could have slowed down the tech response.”

The E-Pass is but one of many tech solutions currently in the works.  A COVID-19 Mobile Self-Check and Update tool that was launched earlier this month has over 250,000 USSD responses since its launch.

All E-Pass applications will be processed within 12 hours of submission but within 6 hours for emergency requests. An SMS will be sent to confirm or reject an approval. Applicants would also be informed if applications require further review.  E-Passes can only be used by the individual or vehicle whose name and registration number appear on the pass. Security officials at inter-district and other checkpoints would carry out verifications using USSD and other mobile solutions- the mobile phones used are donated by the two leading telecommunication companies in the country.

DSTI will continue to engage with partners in the public and private sectors to deploy innovative solutions that will improve and enhance the Government of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 response efforts.

To make inquiries call the COVID-19 Lockdown and Curfew E-Pass Toll Number +232-55-117117. For all health emergencies, please call the 117 National Emergency Helpline.

Blog

President Bio appoints Mohamed James, a data scientist at DSTI to high-level Scientific and Technical Advisory Group for Emergencies

34-year-old Mohamed “M.J.” James, a data scientist at The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) has been appointed to Sierra Leone’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Group for Emergencies (STAGE) by H.E. President Julius Maada Bio.

James has developed code to help fight corruption and led the design of an economic data analytics tool that hosts time series data on national inflation, foreign exchange, imports, and exports.

Mohamed “M.J.” James

As a data scientist, he collects data for analysis, processes, and visualization. He builds machine learning models to support government leaders with decision making. 

James and the team of data scientists and developers at DSTI have been integral to the design and development of technological solutions to support the ICT pillar of the national COVID-19 response. Together with private sector tech ecosystem players, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, the Ministry of Information and Communication, and development partners, they have created a registration App for the Emergency Operation Center, a COVID-19 Public Information Portal, a Quarantine Data Dashboard, and a COVID-19 Surveillance Dashboard to enhance the work of frontline health workers. Others are developing tools to incorporate big data analytics into Sierra Leone’s response. 

“It has been my privilege to serve with other scientists and developers at DSTI, under the leadership of Dr. Sengeh to support President Bio’s vision to transform Sierra Leone into an innovation nation,” said James.

“This appointment will inspire and motivate me and the rest of DSTI. I was really surprised to be included amongst so many brilliant minds. I am humbled and grateful to President Bio for his commitment to highlighting and rewarding the contributions of young technical Sierra Leoneans.”

A release from the Office of the President, State House explained that the key functions of the STAGE would be to “provide real-time scientific advice, insights from research, and state of the art technological interventions for the considerations of H.E. the President and the Government of Sierra Leone.” James’ expertise in data analytics will be a critical contribution to the Advisory Group.

Other appointees to the STAGE include Dr. Nellie Bell, Dr. Austin Demby, Dr. Kande-Bure Kamara, Professor Mallam Osman Sankoh, Dr. Isata Wurie, Dr. Nehlema Barrie, Dr. James C Boima, Dr. Paul Farmer, Ms. Ishata Conteh, Mr. Lawrence Babawo, and Dr. Pardis Sabeti. 

“We are proud of M.J. He is an amazing team player and a dedicated member of DSTI. We are extremely grateful to have one of ours appointed to such a high-level scientific committee,” said Michala Mackay, COO, and Director, DSTI. 

Blog

Sierra Leone joins Africa’s tech nations to deploy drones for COVID-19 Response

Drones flew over the capital city of Freetown during a three-day lock-down in March as part of Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 Response. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) collaborated with a local drone company to capture images to understand citizen compliance in the Western Urban and Western Rural districts during the lock-down.

In West Africa, Sierra Leone has the sub-region’s only national government drone corridor which was launched in November 2019, by H.E. Julius Maada Bio in partnership with UNICEF, and Njala University. Since then, the nation’s first certified drone pilot graduated from the Africa Data and Drone Academy’s (ADDA) drone certification program at Malawi University of Science and Technology, aerial drones have been used in medical deliveries, and now for COVID-19 emergency response activities.

Countries in Africa that have embraced innovation are integrating technological solutions in their COVID-19 Response. This week Rwanda used drones to spread public health awareness messages. In South Africa, Artificial Intelligence and drones are collecting data on citizen movement and lockdown measures. Similarly, in Tunisia, police robots equipped with AI capabilities are manning the streets as part of their compliance monitoring strategies.

Sierra Leone’s DSTI has the vision to use science, technology, and innovation to support government service delivery and strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem. DSTI is currently deploying its scientists and technologists to support the Government’s integrated COVID-19 Response.

Blog

Sierra Leone goes live with SMS and USSD COVID-19 self-assessment mobile services

Sierra Leone has recorded its tenth case of COVID-19, less than a week after it ended a 72-hour mandatory stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. During the three-day lockdown, a team of local computer scientists and data engineers from the public and private sectors collaborated to develop technological solutions to enhance the nation’s COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts. 

The COVID-19 emergency tech response team made up of experts from the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI), UNICEF, the Emergency Operations Center, Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, other government agencies and private sector partners developed and incorporated COVID-19 public health information into the Government of Sierra Leone’s *468# (*GOV#) Public Information System. 

They expanded the existing *468# (*GOV#) Government Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platform to allow citizens to conduct a self-check against their symptoms; learn prevention tips; and get updates on Sierra Leone’s COVID-19 situation, including the number of cases, deaths, and the quarantine status. A complimentary SMS mobile application that offers users the same functionalities was also developed. 

Today DSTI and its partners are announcing that the *468# (*GOV#) Government USSD platform and its accompanying 468 SMS Service have been activated to make it easier for citizens’ self-assessment of their coronavirus risk and to access accurate and correct information on COVID-19 on any mobile phone device.

Fix Solution is the lead private sector partner on USSD mobile service delivery. Their Chief Executive Officer, Sorieba Daffae, was one of the first private sector partners to sign up to the national tech response. 

Sorieba Daffae – CEO – Fix Solution SL

“What the crisis has shown us is that we are on our own. While we have some external support, this is the time to mobilize local expertise. I reached out to DSTI to volunteer towards the COVID-19 tech response to ensure that we could speed up the national effort by leveraging our local market knowledge. Our core competencies are specifically around technology solutions for public service delivery. With the USSD and SMS self-assessment tools, we’ve been able to collaborate with epidemiologists and DSTI to assist with the telecommunications integrations,” said Daffae. 

In November 2019, President Julius Maada Bio launched the National Innovation and Digitization Strategy (NIDS) and the USSD Portal to engage citizens and to improve government service delivery. A central principle in NIDS is the development of hybrid technologies that work for everyone. 

“We are collaborating with partners across government and the private sector to deliver Sierra Leone’s unified technological response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The SMS and USSD systems work with or without the internet, meaning that we reduce barriers to citizens’  access to information,” said Michala Mackay, Director and Chief Operating Officer, DSTI.

“We have also seen an increase in fake news across social media, which is causing anxiety and fear. Citizens can now use the USSD portal to verify news and get the most up to date information on the national COVID-19 situation.” 

According to the 2018 Sierra Leone Integrated Household Survey, two out of every three Sierra Leonean households (77%) have access to a mobile phone, meaning that SMS and USSD-based solutions will reach both citizens in the urban centers and rural communities. 

The USSD and SMS solutions offer flexibility to ensure that citizens have access to accurate information, whether or not they are using a smartphone. For now, the USSD code *468# and SMS to 468 are only available to users on Orange, and Africell. Even as the USSD and SMS solutions for COVID-19 go live, citizens are reminded to report any and all emergencies to 117 the national helpline.

Sierra Leone has started a two-week partial lockdown that limits travel between districts and a national daily curfew that starts from 9 pm-6 am. During this period, in addition to the COVID-19 services, citizens can use *468# to access information on government facilities and services within their districts including ‘find my nearest hospital’, and others. The COVID-19 tech response team will continue to develop technology for crisis response.


SMS USSD Activation Tools & Frequently Asked Questions

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