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Coronavirus: Technology borne at a time of health crisis

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Wednesday, 29 July 2020 18:25

Member of the SORMAS team (

Health crises are often the impetus to unlocking innovation.

As of 29 July, Nigeria had just under 42,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Many are surprised by this seemingly low number, especially in extremely densely populated cities such as Lagos. The large number of largely impoverished people in a small area means that social distancing measures are hard, and diseases spread quickly.

And Nigeria is not the only one where the official numbers were surprising.

As the pandemic has made its way across the continent, the official number of cases and deaths reported have been questioned by health workers, the media or locals for being overwhelmingly low.

Often it’s a question of people not reporting their cases or its hard to reach rural communities, or the governments opt to minimise the numbers to not spark any panic.

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One way of overcoming such discrepancies is through technology.

Case in point is the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014-2016 that affected West Africa and necessitated technology to monitor and track the disease that killed over 11,000 people.

That in turn spawned the Surveillance, Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System (SORMAS ).

LISTEN Coronavirus: 5 key lessons from the 2014 Ebola outbreak

SORMAS was created in 2014 by a consortium of German and Nigerian public health, research institutions and a global software company, to combat the West Africa Ebola outbreak. During COVID-19, it has been used by Nigeria (as well as Ghana, Germany and Fiji) to manage cases, and contact people who might have been exposed to high-risk areas.

What is it

The SORMAS platform is real-time software used for outbreak and epidemic surveillance. It is used to monitor data for responses, most recently for Lassa Fever, and now for COVID-19.

What next

In Nigeria, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control sifts through the data and disseminates it to the various pillars. This helps to track the state of response around the country in real-time.

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Localised surveillance officers help to input the information across the country, which helps to shape a nuanced and holistic view of the data.

How it works

The surveillance identifies potential cases through contact tracing of known cases as well as people who display symptoms. These suspected cases are tested in the various labs of the NCDC. The results are shared with the patients, state epidemiologists, and uploaded to the SORMAS platform.

State governments are made aware of the data, enabling them to put measures in place accordingly. Every night, the most recent cases – broken down by states – are announced publicly on social media via the NCDC.

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Every morning, further analysis is provided through a comprehensive daily situation report. On weekdays, members of the Presidential Task Force brief the public and answer questions from the press. This all means that there is an intense engagement with the population.

As the CEO of the NCDC, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said, the NCDC is “pushing very hard to explain the data.” However, they are not afraid to say they do not know an answer when the case arises, as there is still a lot not understood about this novel virus.

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