Yesterday, the13th of April 2020, the Ministry of Communication held a virtual concert to launch what it described as the COVID-19 tracker app it has developed.
The virtual concert which was hosted by Peace FM's 'Kokrokoo' host, Kwame Sefa Kayi was telecasted live on various TV stations across the country.
The benefit of the said app to Ghanaians according to covid19.com, which happens to be the official download manager for the GH COVID-19 tracker is to answer users’ questions on the coronavirus, help them check for coronavirus symptoms and also help report suspected cases.
Though using technology in this regard is not misplaced at all, but shockingly and upon wasting my data the only way the app could check symptoms was to ask me the following three questions: Do you have a fever?, Do you cough?, Do you have shortness of breath?
Currently, the app is limited to Android users only since it’s only with the “apk” file extension. Technically, anyone who can play around android user interface very well can use the app. So who said those who have access to android phones and can fully operate it are lacking the required info they need on Coronavirus?
Because such people in addition to all the relevant information they can tap from Radio, and television can also rely on the online media as far as the needed Education with respect to the fight against COVID-19 is concerned.
For instance, as we speak, the world health organization which is the primary source of all the information on the pandemic has long ago developed an automated system that can be accessed by merely sending a WhatsApp message to this number: +4179 8931892.
All latest information and guidance one may need from WHO, regarding the current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), including information on topics like, latest numbers, how to protect yourself, symptoms, frequently asked questions, myth busters, travel advice, News & Press across the globe, etc can be accessed simply on the system.
So the app, in this case, becomes a misplaced priority since it is not actually the specific app or program solving the information need of the people as far as relevant information on the flight against Covid-19 is concerned.
In any case what becomes of the many Ghanaians who don't have access to android phones? What about the 'BBC' (Born before Computer) group of Ghanaians who use smartphones as if it is an ordinary Nokia 3310? Will the app benefit them? Definitely No.
If that is the case, why then do we have to waste money which could have been used to feed the poor and the vulnerable as well as providing incentives and protective gear for frontline fighters on an app which does not benefit serve the purpose it promises?
The app itself has been found to be entangled with so many technical and technological related issues. Firstly, in reference to Bright Simon, a known technologist and the founder of M-pedigree, who is also the Vice President of the policy think tank, Imani Ghana as reported by GhanaWeb, made it clear that Google and Apple won't allow any covid apps for a while until they complete design, a review and implementation of a "recognized entities" policy, which will lay out the guidelines for prequalified entities to publish carefully vetted apps through their app stores.
Secondly, the so-called COVID-19 tracker app could not be uploaded to play store or iOs platforms because it is yet to be approved by Google or Apple. That is the reason why you are prompted by your android device that "The type of file can harm your device do you want to keep GHCOVID 19.apk anyway?" whenever one tries to download the file from the official platform covid19.com which is the sole platform where the app could be downloaded.
In this case, the said COVID-19 tracker App could only be likened to an ordinary third party App like WhatsApp GB, WhatsApp plus and other apps that have been banned from Google and Apple’s trusted platforms.
So it has been established that android users don't actually need the app and those who need it too cannot have access to it if it is all about having access to information on COVID-19 and checking symptoms.
Though it is a positive step worth commending, it will do us more harm than good as it only helps the few app developers or programmers and event organizers that will make billions out of it. No wonder it was dramatically launched with a 'concert'. Whoever came to perform will definitely not go back home as they came.
Dr. Bawumia has launched so many digital platforms, including GPS apps, mobile money interoperability among others. Yet none of them was launched through "concert parties". So why this one?
What happens to the majority of Ghanaians in remote areas who don't even have access to the internet or electricity let alone having access to an app. What about the many illiterates who cannot read or write and understand the big English which is being used in presidential addresses to the National and through media campaigns on COVID-19?
In Rwanda, the Police are carrying out COVID19 education especially in deprived communities and rural areas using megaphone-mounted drones.
Can't we adopt an innovative idea like this?
Back home here, the only thing the media can do is to make video recordings of Ghanaians who cannot pronounce the word 'Coronavirus' and 'hand sanitizer' instead of Educating them.
We have been hearing Shatta Wale and Kwame Eugene songs every day. Are the songs the new vaccines or antidotes discovered or what?
Well before I forget, another part of the app is to help report suspected cases. Funny though! With what data if I may ask? how can those who have been asked to stop work and stay at home get money to buy data while what they will eat has even become a burden.
Is a toll-free number not enough in this case?
Maybe this is a wake-up call for the National Communications Authority to negotiate with the Telecommunication network operators to decrease their tariffs on data usage.
I rest my case.
Owusu Baffoe Daniel