Tag Archives: Digital

Togo hospital employs Raspberry Pi 400 as a thin client

The first day back after the Christmas holiday can be a Godzilla of the Sunday Scaries for some, but ours was made much more pleasant by the discovery of another update from Togo, courtesy of local philanthropist and longtime friend of Raspberry Pi Dominique Laloux. Read on to learn how Raspberry Pi 400 is helping to transform essential record-keeping at Bethesda Hospital in Togo, West Africa.

A small Ubuntu server has been in place at Bethesda Hospital since March, speeding up the essential record-keeping previously done by much slower and less secure means. Patient demographic data, medical procedure records, pharmacy sales, and other essential information are securely stored on the system and accessed around the hospital on Raspberry Pi desktop units. Another module is currently in development to record more sensitive medical data, such as logging symptoms, treatment plans, lab reports and official diagnoses. A third module is also being considered so that all pharmacy purchases no longer need to be processed by the ageing inventory software currently in use. A replacement fleet of Raspberry Pi 400 units has been trickling through the hospital for several months now, churning through the work done by much older, bulkier hardware. The Raspberry Pis are working alongside some remaining older laptops and PC towers, but the Ubuntu server has updated and streamlined everything across the hospital.

Cross-departmental change

Departments across Bethesda Hospital have already switched to the new system, with many now working solely on Raspberry Pi hardware, including the intensive care unit, maternity ward, anaesthetists, dentistry, and accounting. Next in line for an upgrade are the radiology and ophthalmology units – and once they’re equipped, pretty much the entire hospital will be covered.

Hard-working thin clients

We were very happy to hear that the Raspberry Pi 400s are so far behaving perfectly as thin clients in Dominique’s setup, despite the heat and humidity during the rainy season. There was an issue of frequent power outages causing recurrent SD card corruption, but that was resolved by switching to write-protected cards running Raspberry Pi OS, which saw the Pi 400 units restart without complaint after power cuts.

Going paperless in 2024

Despite many hurdles, mainly related to very tight budgets and limited user computer-related skills, Dominique feels the project has reached “a point of no-return”, with hospital staff accepting the clear benefits of a centralised record-keeping system. The goal for 2024 is to gradually discard the current paper-based records once user confidence in the online system is cemented. The progress made so far is all the more impressive when you learn that most employees at Bethesda have never used a keyboard until this new system was implemented. While they all use smartphones, computers have not featured in their lives at all until now.

An impossible task?

Bethesda Hospital was built by a German mission in 1969 and has been a referral hospital in Togo for many years. It tries to make medical care attainable at the lowest possible cost for local families on very limited incomes, but a history of financial difficulty has made this mission increasingly difficult. Dominique was approached by hospital director Dr. Sowu with a seemingly impossible task: provide potential commercial partners, in Togo and abroad, a clear view of hospital activity and finances, but without spending a penny and with the knowledge that hospital staff had no previous IT experience. We’re just glad to see Dominique’s decision to include our affordable hardware in the scheme is going well and hope to hear that the goals for 2024 have been reached by the next time we sit down in front of a New-Year’s inbox.

Source: Raspberry Pi Foundation, January 2024


Ghana’s extraordinary digitalisation makeover

Written by Kwame Ofori Appiah  Published January 11, 2024

For decades, the haphazard system of property addresses in Ghana verged on the ridiculous. Despite several attempts to have a formalised structure in place, finding directions often required using local landmarks or specific vendors. Thus, the joke went, if the woman selling waakye (a local delicacy) had not set up her stall that day, the directions that depended on her position would be completely useless to the person to whom they had been given. The actual consequences of this, however, were far from funny.

In 2017, the current administration, led by President Nana Akufo-Addo, then in its first year, launched the Ghana Digital Property Address System – GhanaPostGPS, as it is known. It uses digital infrastructure to give every property a unique identifying marker that becomes its address. At the launch of the system, the President noted that an effective address system would aid emergency response, improve efficiency, reduce crime and provide a vital fillip to the e-commerce sector.

In the years since, name plates have been affixed to properties and it has become a requirement for official forms and formal communications to bear the addresses. Since then, invitations to parties, funerals and other social events invariably bear the 11-character designations. For the first time, Ghana seems to have cracked the address conundrum and is, by some measure, enjoying the benefits.

The novel solution to resolving an ages-old problem using digital technology was an indication of the approach that the government intended to take. Government pointed out that this was only part of a wider effort to deploy digital tools to address pressing national challenges.

Another approach was that of national personal identification. Without a robust system to register and record citizens and residents, policy making had lacked a vital component.

You cannot grow what you cannot measure and with the national identification system (the Ghana Card) now being rolled out, the government of Ghana is getting a grip on the number and demographic distribution of the people in the country, enabling it to better plan and develop policies.

A clear benefit is that with each citizen now mapped to a unique, digitised identity, it is much harder for people to have double identities or to avoid their statutory responsibilities to the state or private institutions.

So far, over 18m Ghanaians have registered for the Ghana Card and it has become the foremost identification document. Banks require it for transactions, leading to hopes that with concerns about identity mitigated, some risk in lending can be obviated, thus increasing financial inclusion, increasing lending, and with better risk profiling, reducing lending costs.

The card is the foundation of a SIM registration exercise that now links every single number issued by the mobile network operators to a traceable identity, limiting fraud
and discouraging mischievous

The Ghana Card will also help overcome a perennial problem in Ghana’s public sector, the issue of ‘ghost workers’, whereby beneficiaries or government employees that are either bogus or dead still receive government payments. Some estimates put the money lost to this practice at $400m annually.

With the Ghana Card, efforts to remove such names from the rolls of state institutions, pension schemes and other records have gathered steam. In 2022, the Ghana Audit Service announced that it had been able to trace and remove as many as 140,000 fake names that were on the government’s payroll. The benefits of digitalisation in exposing and preventing corruption while preserving national resources could not be more starkly demonstrated.

Digital evangelist

At the centre of this drive for digital transformation is Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia. With his evangelism for digitalisation and hands-on approach to implementation, he has come to symbolise the drive.

He is directly involved with the process, is often present at launches and has become a passionate advocate for greater digitalisation Africa-wide.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a digital revolution, one that is based on data and systems,” he told KTN News in Kenya in September, 2022. “If you are an economy and you don’t digitalise, you will be left behind and Africa has been left behind for far too long,” he added.

Back home in Ghana, during a public lecture at Ashesi University, he drew on references to the World Bank and the World Economic Forum to argue his contention that “data is the new precious resource” and that digitalisation is sine qua non for sustainable development in Africa.

Public service digitalisation

The government stresses that digitalisation is key to expanding public services and reducing corruption, for example in the acquisition of statutory documents such as passports and drivers’ licences. The processes for these and other documents have been completely digitalised.

Applications are initiated online with forms submitted virtually. It is only after these have been accepted and verified that a date is given to the applicant to appear at an office for the final stages of the process which require their physical presence for tests and the collection of biometric details such as fingerprints and iris scans.

Previously, this activity was taken up by middlemen, or ‘goro boys’ in the local parlance, who exploited their connections to and connived with officials to prioritise applicants who paid the highest backhanders.

Similarly, revenue collection and payments have also been digitalised. On the ghana.gov platform, payments can be made via mobile money, while at a number of offices, cash is no longer accepted; payments can be made either by cheque or to an onsite bank and a receipt presented to the relevant official.

The Ghana Card has also replaced the tax identification numbers introduced earlier. This means that citizens now access public services with the same identification with which they pay taxes. The same number is also replacing social security numbers that identify contributors to and beneficiaries of the national pension scheme, the Social Security and National Investment Trust.

Digitalisation of the country’s ports, also begun in 2017, has boosted traffic and revenues. According to Nana Esi Soderberg, Deputy General Manager in charge of marketing and corporate affairs at the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, containerised traffic at Tema port continued to rise even at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, recording a 24% increase, which she ascribes to the effectiveness of the paperless ports policy.

In the first year of implementation, the Minister of Finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, informed parliament that the system had cut the average transaction time at the port from two days to eight hours, while increasing government revenue by 35.5%.

Health systems get welcome boost

Not all the state’s technological efforts, however, have been met with universal approval. Perhaps one of the more controversial initiatives was to employ drones to deliver blood and medical supplies to the more remote parts of the country.

For this, the government partnered with a Silicon Valley firm that had previously deployed the service in Rwanda. Opponents baulked at the cost and practicality of the initiative, which was championed, once again, by Bawumia.

In December 2022, at a National Health Insurance Service Active Month event in Tamale in the Northern Region, the Vice-President was able to report on the success of the initiative. “So far, the drones have delivered over 12m deliveries over 278,936 flights. So you can see they are saving lives.”

In any case, the application of technology has become central to the government’s agenda for health. Away from the medical drones, health service records have been digitalised, making it easier to store and locate medical records.

The country’s public hospitals are also being placed on a single database under the Lightwave project. For patients, this will mean that when they enter a hospital anywhere in the country, it will be possible for carers to find their medical records and history and be able to treat them with the benefit of all the relevant information.

The national health insurance records have also been integrated with the national ID database. Users now only need their Ghana Card number when interacting with the service. They can also pay their annual premiums and update their records via mobile application.

The country’s justice system has also been given the digital makeover. The e-justice project, under the e-transform programme, was launched in March 2019 by President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The project sets out to digitalise all court records and processes, thus eliminating the phenomenon of ‘missing dockets’ that often drag out litigation and frustrate parties as well as officers of the court.

Virtual hearings are now possible in at least three courts around the country, which means lawyers, witnesses and even accused persons can participate in hearings without the burden of travel.

For Ghana’s notoriously crowded court system, this has been a major boost to clearing the backlog of cases, especially for prisoners who have been held on remand for, in some instances, years without having their day in court.

When Covid-19 struck, the benefits of the system became even more apparent as the judicial service became one of the few institutions that continued to operate, with minimum adjustments, through the pandemic.

Mobile money explosion

For ordinary Ghanaians, the digitalisation drive has perhaps been most keenly felt in access to financial services. Mobile money has been operational in the country for close to two decades but after the implementation of interoperability, which enabled seamless transactions between users on different networks, as well as between mobile networks and bank accounts, usage exploded.

Mobile money is now used widely to remit money to friends and family, to pay for goods and services and even taxes and government levies. In a video that was widely shared, Vice-President Bawumia was seen demonstrating the use of mobile money for payments at a popular waakye vendor in the capital.

The increase in e-commerce services and other remote services can be ascribed to the mobile money phenomenon.

The increasing number of active mobile wallets is evidence of expansion in financial inclusion, with users in even the remotest parts of the country suddenly able to participate in the financial system.

It also means that more people are able to purchase financial products, from insurance to treasury bills, via their mobile phones. Two of the largest providers, MTN and Vodafone, offer micro loans on their networks with a rapidly expanding asset base and a growing number of clients.

In its 2022 budget, the government introduced a levy on electronic transactions above GHc100 ($8.74), which was met with stiff public resistance. After several contentious hearings, the parliament of Ghana passed the bill in May 2022.

Despite widely held apprehensions, mobile money usage has continued to grow and in 2022, a record of GHc1.07trn ($94.1bn) worth of transactions were recorded across the mobile money networks in the country, up from the Ghc902.5bn ($78.86bn) recorded in 2021.

The government’s justification for its focus on and investments in digitalisation is that it will create the basis of a formalised, modern economy that will assure the country of sustainable growth, less prone to the occasional disruptions that have been its lot up to the present.

In his lecture at Ashesi University, Bawumia argued that digitalisation is critical to building the systems that have served Western, developed economies so well, while acknowledging that there might not be immediate political gains from these initiatives, as compared to large-scale infrastructure projects.

A sustained programme will be essential to realising the full benefits and luckily, there seems to be as much political will as there is public enthusiasm. No one wants to go back to using the waakye seller as a directional tool – she may be delivering from home and taking digital payments now.

Written by Kwame Ofori Appiah

Source: New African, 11th Januar 2024


Interview: AI expert warns of ‘digital colonization’ in Africa

Artificial intelligence (AI) is ripe to help resolve certain major problems in Africa, from farming to the health sector, but Senegalese expert Seydina Moussa Ndiaye is warning of a new “colonization” of the continent by this new technology if foreign companies continue to feed on African data without involving local actors.

One of 38 people members of the new UN advisory body on machine learning, Mr. Ndiaye spoke with UN News about the landscape ahead, building on his experience in helping to drive Senegal’s digital transformation in higher education, serving as an expert to the African Union in drafting the Pan-African Strategy on AI and in contributing to the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI).

Senegalese AI expert Seydina NDiaye is one of the 38 experts of the UN High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence.

© Courtesy of Seydina Ndiaye
Senegalese AI expert Seydina NDiaye is one of the 38 experts of the UN High-Level Advisory Body on Artificial Intelligence.


UN News: How could AI help Africa?

Seydina Moussa Ndiaye: There are several African countries that are beginning to have a dedicated strategy for artificial intelligence. However, there is a pan-African strategy that will soon be published, with a continental vision of AI development.

More and more, young people launching startups are interested in this, and they have a real thirst for knowledge in the field of AI. This growing interest can be accelerated with international help.

However, there is a wall in some areas, and AI can in fact be used to solve certain problems, including in agriculture. In the health sector, AI could in fact solve a lot of problems, especially the problem of a lack of personnel.

The other element that is also very important is the development of cultural identity. Africa has been seen as a continent with a cultural identity that has not been able to impose itself across the world. With the development of AI, we could use this channel so that African cultural identities are better known and better valued.

Bernice Kula-Kula, a refugee from DR Congo, studies computer engineering, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence on a UNICORE scholarship, thanks to Italy with UN-support.

© UNHCR/Agnese Morganti
Bernice Kula-Kula, a refugee from DR Congo, studies computer engineering, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence on a UNICORE scholarship, thanks to Italy with UN-support.


UN News: Are there bad sides of AI threatening Africa?

Seydina Moussa Ndiaye: The biggest threat for me is colonization. We may end up with large multinationals in AI that will impose their solutions throughout the continent, leaving no room for creating local solutions.

Most of the data currently generated in Africa is owned by multinationals whose infrastructure is developed outside the continent, where most African AI experts also operate. It’s a loss of African talent.

The other important element to consider is in the context of the fourth industrial revolution. The power of AI combined with advances in biotechnology or technology could be used, and Africa could be the place where all these new solutions are actually being tested.

If it’s not supervised, we could end up with tests that would take place on humans with chips or even integrated biotechnology elements that we improve. These are technologies that we don’t really master well. In regulatory terms, there are certain aspects that have not been considered. The very framework for the application of ideas and existing regulations is not effective.

In concrete terms, and when you don’t control these things, it could happen without anyone knowing. We could have Africa being used as a Guinea pig to test new solutions, and this could be a great, great threat for the continent.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed interacts with Sophia the robot at the “The Future of Everything – Sustainable Development in the Age of Rapid Technological Change” meeting.

© United Nations/Kensuke Matsue
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed interacts with Sophia the robot at the “The Future of Everything – Sustainable Development in the Age of Rapid Technological Change” meeting.


UN News: Do you think that the UN’s new AI advisory group is going to be a platform that will allow you to put these problems on the table?

Seydina Moussa Ndiaye: Yes, absolutely. We’ve started our work, and it’s really very open. These are high-level people who understand international issues well, and there are no taboo subjects.

It’s important that the voice of Africa is represented in the group. International scientific cooperation will be strengthened and not limited to the major powers. At the international level, it includes everyone and also helps the least developed countries.

Currently, there is a real gap, and if this is not resolved, we risk increasing inequalities.

Source: UN, 2nd January 2024