From a Virtual Hackathon to six Namibian Tech Solutions for COVID-19

Opportunities for us to explore new solutions-driven and responsive approaches.

March 31, 2020

Namibia Hackathon on COVID-19

By: Yrika Maritz- Head of Experimentation, Namibia Accelerator Lab

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up an opportunity for us to explore new approaches that are more responsive, relevant and solutions-driven.  After all, it is not every day that a world-wide crisis rears its head to bring about the kind of disruption occurring around us. 

The Tech response to COVID-19

The Faculty of Informatics at the Namibia University of Science and Technology organized a Hackathon and I got an invitation to it. This was a perfect opportunity to participate and support national efforts.  I had never participated in a ‘hackathon’ before and was thrilled to join a virtual hackathon.  The event kicked off on the 18th of March 2020.   More than 80 local and international lecturers, students and private sector members converged using WhatsApp as the main communications platform to brainstorm and develop technology responses to Namibia’s COVID-19 challenges. It was fascinating to join this team of people who self-organized despite working remotely.  Connections at suitably scheduled times to attend virtual meetings on Zoom and Skype to consolidate ideas were regular. Slack and Trello were used as project management and collaboration tools of choice and updated in real-time.

Teams embarked on virtual sensemaking, highlighted patterns, challenges and themes. These later evolved into six different projects all with different focus areas and app development to support them. The recently launched UNDP Namibia  Sustainable Development Goals Hub was offered as support and availed some funding for the virtual hackathon.

Solution 1: The COVID19 Namibia Essential information App and website

This App contains general information for local awareness-raising, news, statistics, different language brochures, advice and tips, testing centres, frequently asked questions,  and official Government information and circulars.

The COVID19 Namibia Essential information App and website

Solution 2: A Local App to counter Misinformation and Sentiment Analysis

This App was designed to create a counter-narrative against the misinformation on social media by posting facts from the main verified sources.

Solution 3: A Self-reporting App

This tech solution was designed to self-report temperatures, flu or allergies symptoms and offers self-checking against a set of health questions whilst visualizing these on a live tracking map. The objective of this app is to assist those at home (urban and rural areas) to quickly access help where needed.

Solution 4: Artificial Intelligence (AI) to scan the lungs.  

Using the development of coding and algorithms, the idea of presenting an AI solution to scan lungs was well underway.  However, although the Accelerator Lab had pledged to provide financial support, the specifications and availability of a high-quality thermal camera for this purpose has been the main challenge that has delayed further progress of this intervention. 

Solution 5: Real-time data tracking App

This App provides data visualization on Namibia’s COVID-19 cases and affected areas. A line list for Namibia’s COVID-19 data has already been started and will be populated as the number of confirmed and recovered cases come in.

Solution 6: E-Learning

The final project is a more long-term one which looks at implementing Virtual Learning solutions. A group of innovators looked at challenges and opportunities from a multi-stakeholder perspective for implementation in virtual classrooms, synchronized virtual workplaces and conferences.

Depending on the lens through which we choose to view the crisis, we can position ourselves to engage in the fast-tracking of innovation.