Kwabena Nuamah leads software start-up tracking Covid-19 symptoms in Ghana

[2020] Research Associate Kwabena Nuamah has adapted his previous work for Ghana-based start-up Cognate Systems in order to track Covid-19 symptoms in the country using accessible mobile technology.

Kwabena Nuamah
Kwabena Nuamah

Ghana-based software start-up Cognate Systems, co-founded by Kwabena in 2012, have established a community-driven initiative called the Opine Health Assistant (OHA) to facilitate the tracking of Covid-19 symptoms in Ghana. The project uses the accessible mobile technology Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) to enable members of the public to self-report symptoms, providing real-time data and visual insights for disease surveillance teams, public health experts and other stakeholders.

A key aim of the Opine Health Assistant is to make the public’s ability to report Covid-19 symptoms as accessible as possible, which is why USSD is the main mode of reporting. Users do not incur networks charges when using USSD, nor do they need a smartphone as it does not require the installation of an app. This helps to remove many of the barriers to the adoption of technology for symptoms tracking. 

Due to the team's range of expertise in software engineering, data science and artificial intelligence, OHA includes many features that make it easy for stakeholders without data analysis expertise to get the required insights for decision making. These include:

  • Built-in data analysis tools to help health and data experts make sense of the symptoms reported by the public in real time.
  • Data maps with filters to highlight symptoms of interest.
  • Charts and dashboards to help monitor key risk factors and to help with finding patterns within the data.

In response to the need for an innovative system to track symptoms in Ghana, OHA was piloted between 19th and 25th March 2020 using volunteers from the public, prior to Ghana recording its first Covid-19 cases. The team then deployed the full live OHA on 26th March 2020.

Using data from OHA, medical experts can also provide follow-ups to people who report symptoms, which can help give reassurance to users and relieve some of the psychological stresses that come with self-isolation due to Covid-19 symptoms. OHA additionally helps people in need by providing information of nearby relief items, for instance food banks or shelter. The system asks users if they need food and/ or shelter, then provides details of nearby relief items based on the user’s stated location via SMS.

The OHA team, including Kwabena, believes that significant insights into the spread of the virus within communities in Ghana can be gained due to the use of accessible USSD, enabling all members of the public to regularly report symptoms of Covid-19, if any, or report full health otherwise. This data will help health and data experts to effectively track, and therefore fight, the pandemic.

Diagram demonstrating the OHA system

Related Links

Kwabena Nuamah's personal page

Story on the Opine Health Assistant on CNN Africa