Blog: Five Ways Data is Bolstering African Countries’ Resilience to the Pandemic and Other Global Shocks

Apr 20, 2021 | Blog

By Jenny Oldfield, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data

In recent years it’s become commonplace to hear the international community paying tribute to the importance of data for decision-making. Over the last twelve months, people have really felt it. The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) is a coalition of 280 organisations dedicated to data and facts. Our partners, across all sectors, create information that governments, companies, and individuals rely on to make good decisions. So when COVID-19 hit, we were ready.

Last April, GPSDD joined forces with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), to make sure that governments had the data they needed to fight the pandemic. GPSDD is currently engaged in 35 countries across Africa and has built a roster of 30 data suppliers including universities, civil society orgs, and businesses, supporting over 40 partnerships ensuring that timely data facilitates swift decision-making. Davis Adieno, the Global Partnership’s Director of Programs says that data partnerships have leveled up during the pandemic:

“This last year, we’ve all had moments of feeling isolated and helpless, but we’ve channeled that frustration into something positive. We have listened to government partners about what’s keeping them up at night, then drawn upon the network for data solutions, capacity building efforts, rapid surveys and even hardware where that was a limiting factor.”

1. Data Hubs Used By Policymakers and General Public Alike

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, and an early COVID-19 hotspot on the continent. Dr. Yemi Kale, the Statistician-General, understood the need to put data at the heart of the COVID-19 response. With the team at the Global Partnership, and partners including ESRIFlowminderFraymQatar Computing Research Institute, and GRID3, a data hub was developed – bringing together a huge range of important data into a format that could be easily used for decision making.

Once he had the data, he needed to make sure that it got to where decisions were made. The National Bureau of Statistics is working with various committees within the Presidential Task Force, the highest decision-making body for coronavirus response, to ensure timely, accurate data. The data is helping to identify vulnerable populations, track mobility patterns, improve access to healthcare and testing, and get support to the communities who need it most.

2. Real-time Insights Into Vaccine Hesitancy

The rapid development of high-efficacy vaccines after only one year is a miracle of science. Yet vaccine hoarding by rich nations and the politicised nature of vaccine distribution is inflaming vaccine hesitancy. As life-saving COVAX shipments arrive in a growing list of African countries including Angola, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, and Sudan, governments turn their attention to assessing levels of vaccine hesitancy to shape information campaigns that drive strong uptake.

The Global Partnership and UNECA are partnering with SMS survey company GeoPoll to collect perspectives in eight countries, building on insights from previous surveys by Africa CDC and Afrobarometer. Initial findings show rising vaccine hesitancy since 2020, underscoring the need for strong coordination and rapid roll-out. The survey uncovers perception disparities among sexes and age groups, highlighting the importance of tailored vaccine literacy and communication plans that take into account variations in age groups and sex.

3. Anonymised Mobile Data to See Impact of Lockdown Measures

Anonymized data from mobile phone cell towers can be used to understand local trends such as crowd density within districts and people’s mobility. Mobile data can be used to “see” these changes in real-time and anticipate their impact on public health or local economies. Ghana Statistical ServiceFlowminder, and Vodafone Ghana are partnering to carefully broker data-sharing agreements that enabled the analysis of  anonymized mobile phone big data to determine the impact of lockdown measures compared to pre-pandemic trends.

4. Food Security Data To Help Prevent One Crisis Compounding Another

Overlapping crises can compound the damage to economies, as we have seen in East Africa where erratic weather, locust plagues, and lockdowns have challenged the country’s food systems. In Kenya, data from citizens is helping the authorities to track supplies and prices of staple foods, informing and shaping government programs to address food insecurity during the pandemic.

Over in West Africa, in Senegal GPSDD brokered a partnership with Omdena and Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR) that developed a cheap approach using satellite imagery to predict crop yield. The tool can be used by policymakers to decide what food to import and export in order to maintain food security in the country, as well as to help farmers make management and financial decisions.

5. Surfacing New Vulnerabilities Arising From COVID-19

The need for disaggregated data has never been more acute as already-vulnerable groups see their risk intensified during the pandemic. In Kenya, a gender data app is in development to capture the additional risks of gender-based violence during lockdowns. Mauritius is engaged in peer learning with Ghana Statistical Service on their COVID-19 household survey, which helped the government to allocate COVID-19 test kits to where they are most needed. In Puntland, Somalia GPSDD is supporting the creation of a COVID-19 data hub and capacity building on use of satellite data so that the government can support displaced persons affected by tropical cyclone Gati. The goal across all these partnerships is not to treat the pandemic in isolation but to enable data-led decision making that bolsters wellbeing and sustainable livelihoods more broadly.

Looking Ahead

A global pandemic has intensified data partnerships in Africa and beyond. The relationships and trust forged in this time provide a foundation for strong collaboration across sectors and countries in the years ahead to 2030. Data innovation is the ultimate ‘build back better’ opportunity – let’s make sure we take it.

This blog was originally published on the UN Foundation’s intranet, Passport.