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MKU joins fight against COVID-19 through innovation

By Mathew Ndungu
Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

Mount Kenya University is the latest higher learning institution to have joined other Kenyans and institutions in devising ways to combat Covid-19 that continues to ravage the country.

Kenyans have been battling to innovate solutions to suppress the pandemic that continue to claim lives alongside leaving a trail of economic shockwaves.

So far, the country has rediscovered its potential in coming up with locally manufactured technologies such as automatic hand washing machines, Personal Protective equipment’s and ventilators.

Three researchers from the private institution have taken two months to develop a system which if adopted by the government will cut the cost of tracing contacts that may have interacted with Covid-19 patients.

The innovators led by Donatus Njoroge (a Biochemist and a lecturer at MKU), Gideon Kamau (an IT expert) and Dr Jessse Gitaka (a medical doctor) have developed a Covid-19 contact tracing Application dubbed as “KoviTrace” that has the ability to trace people who might have been in close contact with a patient for the last 14 days.

Initially according to the trio, the system was only meant for creating awareness in the local comunity and also offered recommendations as provided by World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health to Kenyans in case one exhibited symptoms.

The system according to Njoroge has a Back End system which is a Web controlled portal that can be used by the administrator, in this case the Ministry of Health, and a front end system which can be accessed by Kenyans with smartphones or through a USSD for those without smartphones.

“The mobile application keeps track of locations and time stamps in the database which can only be accessed by the administrator in this case, the government,” he said.

To access data, the administrator is only required to key in the mobile number of the patient and command the system to trace contacts.

“The entire system then compares the patient’s data, location and time stamps against all all other people and if there is an intersection then the system will robotically generate an SMS instructing everybody the patient has come into close contact with to self-quarantine or go for testing,” he said.

Speaking at the university, the researcher maintained that the system can also be used by users to gauge their susceptibility or exposure to the virus adding that it’s installed with all Facts, Answers and Questions (FAQs) regarding the pandemic from WHO.

He noted that the APP gives the user instructions of whether to self-quarantine, go for a test among other recommendations.

“It is also equipped with all the existing hotline numbers for Covid-19 response teams in the entire country where a user may seek urgent help,” he added.

If adopted by the Kenyan Government, Njoroge insisted that the development can save the Ministry of Health time and resources it has been using in tracing contacts noting that efficiency and effectiveness are guaranteed with the technology.

Dr Jesse Gitaka said that the APP is well designed not to victimize patients saying that the messages sent to his contacts are encoded to protect personal data and privacy of the patients.

IT specialist Gideon Kamau noted that the system will be advanced even post covid-19 to address other related pandemics and infection outbreaks.

“Since Covid-19 might not the last outbreak in the world, we hope to repurpose the application to tackle other outbreaks in the future,” he said.

The three innovators are now calling on the government through the Ministry of Health to consider approving and adopting the innovation as the country is seeking solutions as it primes opening the economy.