As COVID-19 has disrupted life as we know it, I have been inspired by the stories of organisations around the world using AWS in very important ways to help combat the virus and its impact.
Whether it is supporting the medical relief effort, advancing scientific research, spinning up remote learning programs, or standing-up remote working platforms, we have seen how providing access to scalable, dependable, and highly secure computing power is vital to keep organisations moving forward. This is why, today, we are announcing the AWS Africa (Cape Town) Region is now open.
An AWS Region in Africa will enable businesses and government organisations, including those focused on fighting the effects of COVID-19, to build cloud applications and store their data locally, while reaching end-users across Africa with even lower latency.
AWS Regions are composed of Availability Zones, each of which comprises one or more data centres and are located in separate and distinct geographic locations with enough distance to significantly reduce the risk of a single event impacting business continuity, yet near enough to provide low latency for high availability applications.
Each Availability Zone has independent power, cooling, and physical security and is connected via redundant, ultra-low-latency networking. AWS customers focused on high availability can design their applications to run in multiple Availability Zones to achieve even greater fault-tolerance. AWS infrastructure regions meet the highest levels of security, compliance, and data protection.
Local customers with data residency requirements, and those looking to comply with the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), can also now store their content in South Africa with the assurance that they retain complete ownership of their data and it will not move unless they choose to move it.
With this new AWS infrastructure region, developers, enterprises, start-ups, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), education institutions, and governments can leverage the benefits of AWS to start their own businesses, drive innovation, build new products and services, and help citizens across Africa.
At this time, we have a number of customers in Africa who are doing courageous things, at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight. They are helping to provide life-saving information and resources, modelling data and delivering analytics to governments, ensuring millions of students continue to get the education they deserve, and connecting citizens with healthcare providers – demonstrating firsthand the power of cloud computing.
For example, to help with remote learning, virtual schooling provider Top Dog Education is allowing millions of school children to continue with their education, through the CambriLearn and MyTopDog learning platforms, running on AWS. Learners have access to e-lessons, study material, accredited tutors, and interactive material – helping them keep learning and engaged during these challenging times.
To help companies in stay in business during “shelter in place” guidance, Accenture has developed a COVID call center offer for enterprises, offering Amazon Chime, Amazon Connect, Amazon WorkDocs, and Amazon WorkSpaces services to help businesses stay connected from anywhere, on any device, and respond to customer requests.
This is giving call centres and customer support operations across South Africa the ability to quickly spin up environments so their agents can safely work from home.
Speed, and the ability to quickly deploy technology resources, has been essential to help communities operate during the COVID shutdown in South Africa. Using AWS, COVID Connect, a volunteer group of local developers, was able to spin up and deploy a website on AWS in three days, where hospitals and clinics with a shortage of food, water, or medical supplies can be quickly connected with people and organisations that have surplus of these materials.
Also, AWS Partner Network partner iOCO was able to launch a website for the Solidarity Fund in just two days. The Solidarity Fund collects donations that will help South Africa’s national health response to COVID-19, contribute to research to detect and understand the magnitude of the disease, and support those whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic.
In just three days, another APN partner, A2D24, was able to develop and deploy an automated digital communications platform for a private hospital group, to inform anyone who has been in one of their hospitals of possible exposure to a confirmed COVID 19 patient.
The system automatically sends an alert message and conducts an SMS based triage where, each day, patients are asked questions about the type of symptoms they are experiencing and, based on the responses, recommends what to do, and whether to seek further medical help. This application has helped to provide critical care to thousands of patients and staff across the country, and potentially prevent many new infections.
Elsewhere in the healthcare space, organisations have been using cloud technologies to speed up research into COVID-19 and help educate people across Africa. Hyrax Biosciences, a South African company known for its contributions to HIV drug-resistance testing, has released a software tool to detect mutations in the genome of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.
Using AWS, they have developed the Exatype SARS-CoV-2 platform, which tracks the evolution of the virus as it spreads, and have been able to reduce the time spent analyzing datasets from days or weeks to hours or minutes. To educate citizens on measures to take in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 or quickly find medical help when they fall ill, GovChat, South Africa’s largest citizen engagement platform, launched a COVID-19 application in less than 2 weeks on AWS.
The application provides health advice and recommendations on whether to take a test for COVID-19, information on the nearest COVID-19 testing facility, the ability to receive test results, and the ability for citizens to report COVID-19 symptoms for themselves, their family, or household members.
We have also seen more innovative ways to educate and inform people during this time. A good example is the work Digitata Networks is doing in Malawi. Using AWS, they have developed a mobile-based COVID-19 information portal and game that tests and enhances people’s knowledge of the virus.
The game is freely accessible and users are given multi-choice questions on COVID-related topics to help test and grow their knowledge of the virus, how it is transmitted, and when to seek medical attention. The game was built in less than five days and now serves more than 2.8 million requests per day.
Learning more about how our customers and partners are doing inspirational things at this uncertain time leads us to believe the future for Africa is bright. We have been in South Africa for over 15 years and continue to invest in jobs, community support, and technology infrastructure.
The AWS Africa (Cape Town) Region will open countless opportunities for organisations of all sizes, and we look forward to seeing the inspiring innovations that will come from our customers in Africa over the coming weeks, months, and years.
- Werner Vogels is CTO & VP of Amazon