Niamey — Ibrahima Guimba Saidou, Nigerian Minister and Special Advisor to the president, and CEO of the National Agency of Information Society, is spearheading the country’s digital transformation. He speaks about the efforts being made to drive innovation in health.
What is the government of Niger doing to encourage innovations in health?
The Government of Niger decided to have Innovation and Technology as one of the pillars of its socio-economic plans. This is what led to the creation of the National Agency for Information Society (ANSI), which is in charge of our digital transformation programme.
To encourage innovations in health, our Ministry of Health also set up an eHealth strategy, in collaboration with the National Agency of Information Society and other partners. It is through this collaboration that several tools and solutions were developed to address challenges in Niger’s health sector. These include scaling up telemedicine, launching a coding academy and encouraging health related start-ups.
When the pandemic started, we knew we’d need coronavirus-specific innovations, so in May and June, we held a Coronahackathon. The competition was for young Nigeriens to propose solutions for how we could manage COVID-19. In addition to identifying projects that could help with prevention and management, projects about how to manage sectors such as health, education, economy, administration during and after the crisis were also identified. Some of the projects identified included a fact checking platform to dispel misinformation, health consultations using artificial intelligence, and providing telemedicine follow-up checkups.
What are the most important innovation projects the government of Niger has promoted?
Niger is among the youngest nations in the world. More than two-thirds of our population are under 25. Yet, we have still to fully utilize our human resources. Several of our most important innovation projects are related to helping our younger citizens reach their full potential.
For example, eTakara is a national competition for innovation organized by the National Agency for Information Society and is open to anyone over the age of 16. Through this competition, we identify and promote Nigerien talent and work to make digital technology accessible to every citizen. The competition winners receive a year’s worth of support to develop their innovation. Last year, we also launched an eTakara competition specifically for innovators who are younger than 14.
Some of these innovations are connected to health. In 2018, a young man worked on developing E-Bani, which is a device connected to a smartphone that can detect the presence of malaria digitally. That same year, a young woman worked on developing apps to manage epidemics and create electronic medical records. These kinds of innovations take time to develop and can provide us with new tools to manage challenges we face.
Also, as much of our population resides in unconnected rural areas, we’re working to bring connectivity to 15 000 communities. This innovation is called Smart Villages. By dropping a connection into a village, we’re building information highways that can make new information and knowledge available to rural populations that wasn’t accessible before. This includes information about healthcare or general education. New information can increase productivity and, particularly for youth, create a link to the rest of the world that didn’t exist before.