Combatting COVID-19 with innovative data solutions

  • Written by Peter van der Linde
    11 May 2021
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Data is ​at the heart of tackling global emergencies such as the COVID-19 crisis. In an era of social distancing and travel restrictions, data is also much more difficult to collect. This doesn’t just affect the COVID-19 response, but international development projects around the globe.


Last year, I wrote a blog on how to adapt your data collection methods during COVID-19. Since then, with the support of Cisco, we’ve continued to develop and deploy remote data collection alternatives to support partners whose data collection has been severely hampered due to the ongoing crisis. We’re also directly supporting COVID-19 response programmes in East Africa, West Africa, and Asia Pacific.


Read on to find some examples of how we’re using innovative data solutions to expedite and improve COVID-19 response. 


Sharing COVID-19 messages over USSD in Kenya

In Kenya, we have partnered with the three county governments of Kajiado, Laikipia and Kwale to implement a USSD based data collection project. Due to access restrictions posed by COVID-19, USSD shortcode has been used to collect feedback from the communities remotely. The feedback includes how satisfied citizens are with the regional government service provision and, if they participated in public participation meetings, where the projects should be implemented in their areas. 


Akvo collaborated with a Kenya-based USSD service aggregator Africa’s Talking to create an integration that would automatically deliver questionnaires created in Akvo Flow to the respondents via USSD and push the data from the respondent to the Akvo Flow database. New projects to replicate this approach have been designed in Zambia and Uganda. In both of the projects, we will partner with SNV to carry out rapid assessments on the impact of COVID-19 on two development programmes: Sustainable Nutrition for All (Zambia and Uganda) and Scaling Sustainable Nutrition for All (Zambia). 


Contributing to improved WASH services for internally displaced persons in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is undergoing an extreme socioeconomic crisis due to armed conflicts. Attacks by extremists and a patchwork of other armed groups have now uprooted one million people, displacing farmers from their land and leaving crops rotting in fields and granaries. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in close quarters and have weakened immunity due to severe food shortages, making them highly susceptible to contracting and spreading COVID-19. As a result, the government is planning to mitigate and prevent the impacts of COVID-19 through the provision of improved water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services for the IDPs and health care facilities in seven regions of Burkina Faso. 


Akvo is directly supporting this programme by:

  • Developing an online platform for implementing NGOs/partners to self-report their activities from the field,
  • Conducting vulnerability surveys to inform COVID-19 response,
  • Conducting third party monitoring for the implementing partners, and
  • Testing and monitoring the water quality of the health facilities and IDP locations

By targeting internally displaced persons for improved WASH services and health care facilities, the effects of COVID-19 can be mitigated, and prevented, for those who are most at risk. 


Supporting health centres in preparing for COVID-19 in Asia Pacific

Akvo’s Asia Pacific team supports the conduction of preparedness/readiness surveys for health centres in Solomon Islands, Fiji and Micronesia. In Fiji and Micronesia, initial data collection and analysis focused on collecting and sharing data related to:

  • The availability of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE),
  • The level of infection prevention control measures, and
  • Community structures that are in place to mitigate the impact of COVID. 

In Solomon Islands, data collection focused on COVID-19 response preparedness at health care facilities (HCF) along with a risk assessment at water points. Once the data has been cleaned, we’ll create visualisations in line with the UNICEF/WHO Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) standard and share them on an online portal to inform decision makers.


Coordinating Uganda’s COVID-19 emergency response

In Uganda, Akvo is involved in the collection, analysis, and sharing of WASH activity data, which is critical for coordinating the efforts of multiple partners involved in the COVID-19 response. In particular, the five Ws (who, what, where, when and for whom) of monitoring are essential for identifying gaps in the response, preventing duplication among partners, and planning procurement of needed supplies. We have made sure that data can be fed into an online platform using multiple remote data gathering tools including webforms and SMS. By improving collaboration between partners, we can ensure that efforts to combat COVID-19 are effective, sustainable and inclusive. 


Third party monitoring of youth social norming activities in Mali

In Mali, Akvo is supporting the Ministry of Youth Affairs in conducting third party monitoring of awareness-raising activities carried out by youth associations in remote regions of Mali. This programme focuses on educating communities on the risks associated with COVID-19 and sharing best practices to avoid spreading it. Akvo is responsible for conducting Knowledge, Attitude, and Practice (KAP) surveys in the communities to assess the effectiveness of the education campaigns.  Results from surveys have been used to improve the messaging so that greater impact can be achieved in successive campaigns.


Building an integrated COVID-19 data management platform for UNICEF West and Central Africa

Akvo has partnered with the UNICEF regional office for West and Central Africa to implement an integrated COVID-19 response programme in 12 countries in the region. We will also support the reporting efforts of each country by helping them capture and share data on the global COVID-19 reporting indicators. When fully set up in June 2021, this will be the most comprehensive COVID-19 monitoring programme in the region. 


The Hand Hygiene for All initiative (HH4A) in Asia Pacific and Africa 

The Hand Hygiene for All Initiative (HH4A), jointly led by UNICEF and WHO, sets out to accelerate progress towards hand hygiene for all by 2030 and support the most vulnerable communities with the means to protect their health, including against COVID-19. 


Akvo is supporting HH4A by developing a robust, scalable, and interoperable digital platform to support the rollout of ongoing vaccinations as well as the promotion of prevention activities. The focus of the platform will be on:

  • Supporting the coordination and monitoring of activities,
  • Knowledge sharing and evidence generation,
  • Providing analytics and visualisations to monitor vaccine delivery, especially in the hardest-to-reach areas,
  • Providing direct digital support to health providers administering vaccines (via apps), people getting vaccinated (via messaging), vaccine managers, and supervisors (via analytics and dashboards).

Geographical coverage is global, but the initial rollout of this platform will be in the Asia Pacific and Africa. Akvo will partner with UNICEF, WHO, national governments, and other health care agencies in the two regions.


As these programme progress, we'll be sharing updates on the outcomes, innovations and lessons learned. Stay tuned for more. 


If you want to find out more about our data solutions, get in touch with us. 


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Peter van der Linde

Peter van der Linde is Akvo's co-founder and the Americas hub manager. You can follow him on Twitter @petervdl.

Posted in: Data services