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The magic, controversy of Kogi’s COVID-19 wonder App

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, Kogi State of Nigeria has remained an untroubled island without a single confirmed case.

The state governor said the state has a software to help keep track of possible cases in the state. Our reporter looks at the app and the politics and controversies around it.

 

With Nigeria at the moment recording over 6000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Kogi and Cross River remain the only two states in the country without a single confirmed case.

When asked why Kogi is not testing residents for the virus and has recorded no single confirmed case, Governor Yahaya Bello, during a TV interview, said the state is relying on a special app to help it track possible cases of coronavirus infection.

Much ado has been made about the governor’s comments, which have since gone viral on social media. However, despite the furore over this statement, the real question is what is this app that the state is relying on?

The Kogi COVID-19 app, a risk assessment application launched by the state government in March as one of the measures to stem the spread of the pandemic, had elicited a lot of misgivings, with many questioning its efficacy and desirability.

The app according to the state government, is in two categories; web and mobile applications.

The application is accessible on www.kogicovid19.com.ng.

Users can make use of the web app, or download the mobile version for android devices via the same website.

The application uses the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)’s checklist for suspected and high-risk cases to evaluate users.

Going by its features, subscribers fill a questionnaire on the app and from the information provided, health workers will be able to ascertain whether the user might have been exposed to the virus or not or are exhibiting symptoms that would warrant further actions.

The state commissioner for health, Dr Saka Haruna said if a user is a high-risk case, health workers would then trace his or her location for further engagement.

“Our app is GPS enabled, allowing us to track high-risk users from our emergency control centre,” he said.

Other features, he explained, are NCDC’s updated information, the state COVID-19 news, safety information, gallery and work done; helplines/ hotlines for Kogites; contact buttons and live chat and a messaging feature with the control centre.

He said the assessment procedure contained in the app is a preliminary step for determining who needs to undertake further tests.

“Please note that it is not a test for COVID-19. The risk assessment app does not replace valid medical tests for COVID-19,” he said.

Already, questions are being asked about claims on the app that 111 suspected cases had been tested with not a single confirmed cases reported.

However, the NCDC situation report of May 18, 2020, said Kogi had only submitted one sample for test and Cross River had submitted seven. All of these returned negative.

However, concerned persons have faulted the state government for coming up with the idea of an app at a time of “high emergencies” when other states are taking proactive steps to curtail the pandemic.

“What impact will an app have and in a rural state like Kogi? How many people will have access to such technology as an Android phone when they can barely feed?” Mrs Agnes Olaitan of the Rural Impact Assessment Network, a non-governmental organization, asked.

She queries the fact that people will have to be able to afford data and have the knowledge to operate and navigate their devices and the app something she said would be difficult in “a rural state with a high illiterate population.”

Lokoja-based public affairs analyst, Comrade Kabiru Yusuf described the initiative as an exercise in futility, adding that “even within the metropolitan Lokoja, such data-based exercise is bound to fail.”

However, the state government claimed the app has proved to be quite popular and effective in tackling fears among the populace.

“Since the launch of the application, it has been utilised by over 260,000 users,” the commissioner said. “We have had 73 high-risk individuals who have been given urgent medical attention with the intervention of our health team.”

It also claimed to have responded to thousands of Kogites making enquiries about the pandemic and requesting for other medical attention via the app.

It equally asserted that the app has also served as a tracking device for users, even as it said it used the platform to also notify Kogites on COVID-19 safety tips, NCDC and WHO guidelines, amongst others.

Observers, however, contended that the number of users captured so far through the initiative does not reflect the level of enthusiasm the government and its promoters are eliciting.

“With a population of over 3.3 million, going by the 2006 census, the figure of 260,000 users is hardly anything to celebrate,” Mrs Olaitan said.

Some also questioned the veracity of the figures, arguing that the app is hardly a veritable assessment tool in the face of asymptomatic individuals who may not show any symptoms long after infection.

Beyond the misgivings over the number of users, the app also raises security and privacy concerns.

Government aides explained that information collected would be uploaded to a server, which serves as a databank for persons carrying out administrative and medical interventions on COVID-19. This, experts fear, means that a third party could access the information.

“It could put subscribers who divulged sensitive information about themselves at risk because of the way the data is shared,” Mr Samuel Ojigi, a web designer observed. “But more importantly, there is a possibility that it could be hacked by people for pecuniary motives.”

He also warned that as a tracking tool, the app, which is GPS-enabled, would violate the privacy of subscribers whose location could be easily tracked.

However, the commissioner for information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo, assured users of their safety and privacy, saying the app designer took all the safety issues and concerns into consideration during the designing process.

Whatever the case, Kogi State has so far not recorded any case of COVID-19. The government may claim this as a triumph of its app, others will see it as the state not testing enough for the virus.

 

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