In just a year, VODAN Africa has won backing and support around the world. It is a system of sharing data on Covid that ensures that the information remains in the country that generated it, rather than being exported and unavailable to local doctors and scientists.
The research programme includes computer scientists and health data management experts, clinicians and social scientists from all of the participating countries.
The Proof of Concept is now in a programme that will produce a Minimal Viable Product. There are seven countries involved at the moment: Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tunisia, Liberia and Zimbabwe.
Now the work is recognised and endorsed by the United Nations through its educational and scientific organisation – UNESCO. It has just issued the annual report on Engineering for Sustainable Development in which VODAN-Africa is mentioned as a technical innovation for COVID-19 pandemic data:
UNESCO applauded the Virus Outbreak Data Network (VODAN) for its innovative approach to “data sharing and re-use under the present COVID-19 circumstances.”
Professor Mirjam van Reisen, a lead researcher of the programme from Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC), is delighted.
“VODAN Africa was established a year ago when the Covid crisis was declared as a global pandemic. The background was the experience of Ebola data from the crisis in Liberia.
Today the Ministry of Health in Liberia does not have a complete set of these data.
The experience in Africa is that health data leave the continent and do not return. Without a benefit to those data, there is little appetite on the continent to share data. VODAN-Africa has solved that.
Data are reposited in residence. According to local rules and regulations.
The data can only be visited – depending on whatever access is granted. All privacy and security of the data is respected according to the highest standard of the GDPR.
Queries can be executed over the data, and therefore this data can contribute to the understanding of Covid-19 on the African continent.”
VODAN Africa provides a dashboard of real-life data within the clinic which is also where the data is stored. The real-time dashboard is realised as data is machine-readable. This technology is provided as the new smart technology that will help revolutionize health care. In addition, aggregate data queries can be executed if and when clinics approve, and under the guidelines of their respective Ministries of Health.
Just two weeks ago the WHO proposed the future of health data to be adopted to be SMART, with a focus of the benefit of these data to improve quality of health (https://www.who.int/teams/digital-health-and-innovation/smart-guidelines).
The VODAN-Africa project is led by Kampala International University in Uganda, and Prof Francisca Oladipo is the coordinator of VODAN Africa and a member of the Pan African Academy of Sciences.
Professor Oladipo says: “Since Covid-19 we have realised we can work easily over zoom with experts from all over the continent. We collaborate with 12 universities across the continent to enhance our capacities and that of our students. We meet every week with 40 experts on zoom. This programme has shown that collectively we can achieve critical innovation for the continent and we are proud of it.”
To take further advantage of the digitalisation on the continent, the team has also developed on-line learning curricula to ensure the innovation will be supported by sufficient expertise and will generate employment on the continent. The on-line curricula will be freely available to support teachers and students at the Digital Learning Platform of Kampala International University.
“In Africa we are making the switch to digital health and education”, says Professor Oladipo “and our youth is to benefit from their inclusion in the digital economy. We are happy to see the acclaim of the programmes and are determined to make impact that will benefit the people of our continent.”