BY Damien Mama
When I met Akuvi Sossah, 52, mother of four, at a medical centre in a suburb of Lomé, the capital city of Togo, in early April, she proudly showed me the confirmation code that her son had helped her obtain after she registered on her mobile phone for COVID-19 vaccination.
To make access to COVID-19 vaccination easier, Togolese authorities allow people like Ms. Sossah to use their cellphones or this vaccination website to register.
Mobile tools like this are advancing not just the COVID-19 response in Togo, but other areas as well, making way for a broad digital transformation to benefit the whole country.
98% of health workers vaccinated
Thanks to the COVAX facility, Togo received its first 156,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in March, through coordinated support from WHO and UNICEF. Within a week, the country had vaccinated 98% of its health workers, the priority group identified in the national vaccination strategy. Within two weeks, 19% of people aged 50+ in Greater Lomé, the region that includes 72% of COVID-19 cases in Togo, were also vaccinated.
In launching the vaccination campaign, the government bet on the use of digital platforms to reach the greatest number of people, particularly the ones at risk of being left behind. By early April, more than 50,000 people have registered through SMS on their phones and on the website. It takes just minutes for users, and it saves time for health workers who can then administer the vaccine to more people.
Akuvi Sossah also told me she was one of the nearly 600,000 Togolese --- about two-thirds of whom are women --- who benefited from a three-month cash transfer through the government's Novissi programme to mitigate the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 on the poor. This programme, supported by the World Bank and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) was hailed by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in economics.
A top priority
Advancing digital transformation is equally among the top priorities of the United Nations country team in Togo.
By making cash transfers via mobile phones, the Novissi programme minimized intermediary costs and the risks of beneficiaries not receiving their money. "Mobile cash is the best way to help Africa fight COVID-19," the president of Togo, Faure Gnassingbe, said in his recent Op-Ed in the Financial Times.
In the same vein, mobile cash has been used by UNHCR in Togo to support the refugee population as part of the UN support to COVID-19 response.
From the onset, the use of mobile phones or web platforms has been at the centre of the COVID-19 response in Togo. In July 2020, the government launched TogoSafe, a web portal and a mobile app designed to facilitate contact-tracing through digital geolocation, enable compliance to COVID-19 procedures by incoming and outgoing travelers, and share COVID-19 results via email and SMS.
When women lead and youth innovate
To implement his bold aspiration for innovation, President Gnassingbe appointed a female ICT minister to lead the digital transformation in a Togo that has seen women's representation in decision-making advance significantly in recent years. The Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament and over 35% of the cabinet ministers are women. Comfortable with its recent strides in women's leadership and as part of Africa's contribution to Beijing+25, Togo is now leading a regional initiative supported by UNFPA to inspire women and girls in Africa.
In 2019, UNDP supported the government in establishing Nunya Lab, a hub for innovative entrepreneurship and digital solutions for youth. Through its Accelerator Labs, UNDP is supporting the government's efforts to establish a national digital health center to facilitate telemedicine. It also partnered with UNICEF to launch the pilot phase of the digitalization of birth registration in one of the southern communes. To enable seamless communication among government officials and with their partners in the context of COVID-19, UNDP provided 34 videoconferencing kits and accounts to the office of the Prime Minister for the use by all ministries in Togo.
In a small country with big ambitions like Togo, the digital sector is undoubtedly one of the most promising means for leapfrogging in the Sustainable Development Goals. With the use of ICT in the health sector, the government has unleashed the potential to collect and use big data for informed policy decisions.
The UN System in Togo is more committed than ever to supporting local initiatives that use ICT to overcome geographical and social barriers in the delivery of basic social services. The digital environment and the solid political will are favorable conditions for the upcoming rollout in Togo of the International Telecommunications Unit (ITU)/UNICEF Giga initiative to support the government in connecting every school to the Internet by 2030.
The digital transformation aims to ensure that people like Akuvi Sossah are not left behind. As she completes her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination and is ready to return to her stalls in the market, Akuvi was given her vaccination card and was advised by the nurse to keep her code for the second shot next month.
Like Ms. Sossah, all of Togo is on its way to better health and wealth, with the aid of digital tools.
Produced by UN Togo. Written by Damien Mama, UN Resident Coordinator in Togo. Editorial support by Paul VanDeCarr, Development Coordination Office. To learn more about the work of the United Nations Country Team in Togo please visit: Togo.UN.org.