Israeli Innovation Helps Combat Coronavirus in Africa

By Eliana Rudee, JNS.org

In the backdrop of expanding Israel-Africa relations in recent years, Israeli organizations and startups are working to help countries on the African continent fight the coronavirus.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s national ambulance service, recently built dedicated software for managing a drive through coronavirus testing facility in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

MDA’s drive-through centers, which have been operating since the beginning of the spread of the coronavirus in Israel, have received more than 120,000 Israelis. They have also sparked interest from the DR Congo’s Honorary Consul in Israel, resulting in a similar center throughout the central African country, as well as a training program with videos and written procedures that has been passed from MDA to medical professionals who operate the facility in the DR Congo.

“During the long period in which we operated the many ‘Drive Thru’ sampling facilities, the technology we used proved itself, along with the effective and safe practices that enabled the safety of the suspected infected and the teams,” said MDA chief of information officer Ido Rosenblat. “From the moment they contacted us, we were ready to help at during difficult time to set up the ‘Drive Thru’ sampling facilities in DR Congo, and to share our knowledge.”

According to director general Eli Bin, MDA’s medical capabilities, technologies and methods are among the most advanced in the world. “In the light of the fight against coronavirus, we have gained extensive experience in obtaining thousands of samples a day, most efficiently and safely, and now we are happy to share knowledge with other medical entities around the world for the sake of saving human lives.”

To date, the DR Congo has 4,778 known cases of coronavirus, with 107 deaths and 600 recovered patients. With cases spreading quickly, the test centers will be vital in order to confirm cases and prevent further spread of the virus.

“MDA’s professionalism and technology has a reputation around the world,” its international relations coordinator, Uriel Goldberg, said. During the outbreak of the coronavirus period, he said, “countries and people looking for solutions found us.”

After teaching the DR Congo over Zoom how to set up the system, the country now has four permanent and 90 plus mobile testing sites using MDA’s software that can manage data, including a complex bar-code system, and extract the data to map those infected with COVID-19. It also has an interface for the labs, and the software allows users to book appointment for the drive-through, as well as fill out an epidemiology questionnaire.

Goldberg noted that MDA has made it its role, as Israel’s Red Cross National Society, to assist numerous countries around the world. “Israel has very innovative and practical tech and medical solutions for a variety of issues, including coronavirus. MDA is committed to helping African and developing countries.”

Even before the novel virus, he said, MDA helped the Kenya Red Cross to set up an ambulance service, write protocols and train paramedics, who came to Israel for eight months of training.

The organization is also known to send personnel and disaster relief, most recently to Haiti, Turkey, Egypt and Nepal. “MDA receives requests for help and advice all of the time; we are always prepared to help and advise any country that requests it,” he said.

“MDA’s motto is “he who saves one life, it is as if he has saved an entire world,” he added. “We feel that it is our duty for us to help save lives wherever and however we can.”

Israel-based Start-Up Nation Central similarly assists Israeli companies that want to penetrate into African markets with the goal of strengthening their ecosystems. Vered Mivtzari, Start-Up Nation Central’s strategic countries’ director of Africa and India, helps match African challenges with Israeli technology solutions.

“COVID-19 brought with it even more local needs in Africa, and African countries needed much help in dealing with food delivery, medical care and response, and providing basic needs to vulnerable populations such as refugees and the elderly while maintaining social distancing and high standards of hygiene,” she said.

“Some of the Israeli solutions we are working to promote are Beecardia, a cloud platform for cardiology and pulmonology mobile health; Tyto Care, which provides remote examination and consultation with a physician; and Sight Diagnostics, an advanced blood-diagnostics platform,” explained Mivtzari.

“Several Israeli tech companies went above and beyond to advance countries around the world, offering their technologies in open source to different countries around the world, including in Africa,” she continued. Such technologies includes AmboVent, an emergency ventilation device; Growponics, a manual respiratory balloon tech; and Diagnostic Robotics, an AI diagnostic system for health-care insurers, providers and patients that helps authorities locate potential COVID-19 patients.

Israel’s exporting of technology to Africa occurs in a context of increased relations in recent years, now having diplomatic relations with 41 out of 44 Sub-Saharan African states, including a number of Muslim-majority states.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made several visits to Africa in recent years, most recently to Uganda in February 2020. Jerusalem has hosted presidents and prime ministers in recent years from Chad, Liberia, Guinea, Senegal, Togo, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Swaziland.

As Netanyahu said in 2016 after stepping off the plane in Entebbe, Uganda (40 years after his older brother, Yoni Netanyahu, was killed in the Israeli military rescue operation that saved the lives of 102 airline passengers hijacked and held at the Entebbe airport by Palestinian and German terrorists), “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is coming back to Israel.”

According to Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), “in formulating ties with Africa, Israel has largely been motivated by altruism; the drive to circumvent boycotts that were designed to isolate it; efforts to combat external and internal threats to security; construction and consolidation of alliances that reinforce ideals and values; and the attempt to enhance its position as an important actor in the international system.”

Additionally, posed INSS, “Israel’s African allies have sought to consolidate their cultural connections with the Jewish state and harness Israel’s technical expertise in the spheres of development and security.”

During the time of the coronavirus, Israel has certainly heeded the advice of INSS: “To further strengthen these relations, Israel should focus on technical development assistance. The soft-power approach to bilateral relations is the key to winning the hearts and minds of Africa.”

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