Ghana was one of the first countries across the continent to work with the Global Partnership in developing a dashboard with varied metrics to monitor COVID-19 — going beyond just case numbers. This dashboard compiles census and survey information, including limited access to water and soap for handwashing, smoker households, and those with multiple households in one room — all factors that increase the risk of COVID-19.

We spoke to the Global Partnership, and in a matter of 48 hours, we were already having conversations with Esri, and then in less than five days, we had set up this platform. The first cases of COVID in Ghana were in the middle of March. By the end of March, we had a COVID dashboard. I give credit to the Global Partnership for mobilizing the support for us.”

Omar Seidu Ghana Statistical Service

With its dashboard in place, Ghana, in conjunction with the Global Partnership, worked with other countries to share information — showing what was possible and how to do it.

“The Global Partnership has always been encouraging on the continent,” Seidu says. “Our founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, indicated that Ghana’s independence is meaningless if it is not linked up with the independence of the entire continent, so it means that we value the engagement and sharing of knowledge across the continent.” 

Namibia was one of the key countries where this cross-country partnership yielded positive results.

Victor Ohuruogu, from the Global Partnership, says Ghana’s swift adoption of the data hub, combined with the rapid development of a national impact survey on COVID-19, which looked at impact at the household level and also across enterprises, showed the innovative approaches countries were taking to monitoring the pandemic and its effects.

Ghana invited the Global Partnership to participate in its dissemination workshops; this offered an opportunity to get other African countries involved so they could learn from what Ghana was doing.

“The team in Ghana was very supportive. We set up a meeting between the statistical agencies of Namibia and Ghana, and Ghana transferred a lot of information about how they created their COVID data hub, how they designed, secured funding, and implemented their COVID-19 national impact survey, including what tools they used. And that helped to strengthen the capacity for the team in Namibia.” –– Victor Ohuruogu

Tulimegameno Amutenya, a data processing manager at the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA), says the Global Partnership and UNECA’s roles in bringing together nations and partners helped to identify areas the country wanted to focus on to help curb the pandemic.

She notes that being connected with counterparts in Ghana showed her the “great potential” in exploring mobility data analysis. “We learned a lot from them through peer-to-peer knowledge exchange sessions,” she says. “Now, we continue to engage with colleagues through formal or informal communication channels.”

Amutenya would reach out to the Ghana office when they were doing the COVID-19 Household and Job Tracker survey in Namibia, finding guidance and assistance at any hour. 

Building these relationships also means laying the groundwork for sharing other ideas and resources in the future.

“You can collaborate on projects, you can share ideas and share resources, so that really is important,” she says. “Nowadays, we are talking about making statistics offices more automated, having more processes automated, and sharing resources and sharing codes. For example, if you have a good pipeline for trade statistics production, which are more or less the same in every institution, why should Namibia reinvent the wheel?”

However, Amutenya notes the importance of choosing the right partners for data collaboration projects — and emphasizes that stakeholders need to understand the usability of what is being created, as well as a country’s context.

The most important aspect is to consider the relevancy of support to the local community,” Amutenya says. “For instance, online platforms are not easily accessible by remote and village areas. Hence there is a need to ensure we adopt the most appropriate methods for everyone. We had to step back and assess what is important for us, and what works. When dealing with international companies, issues of data protection, ethics, and privacy need to be considered and factored into data agreements set up.”

Ensuring data companies that want to work within Africa are credible and understand the contexts there has also been a top concern for the Global Partnership and UNECA — especially as they have been working to build trust around data.

Oliver Chinganya from UNECA found COVID-19 brought many more players into the data arena, which brings its own set of risks. “Everyone is claiming to become a statistician because they are interested in the data,” he says. “And the risk with that is that people will be looking for short solutions, for short fixes, which are difficult to validate — that’s the danger — whether that data is really sound enough or whether the results of their data is sound enough to inform decision processes for the long term, that is a problem.

“People want solutions, for instance in digitalization, but these are short-term solutions. So we need to have a holistic approach, but it’s not going to be easy because there are so many players now.” 

Data for a Resilient Africa