An African First: COVID-19 Fight Goes Tech as Rwanda Deploys Robots

It might sound like a scene from some high-grade sci-fi film but it is not. It will be happening in real-time in Rwanda. Rwanda is soon to deploy robots to help to screen and test patients for COVID-19 symptoms. The robots will also be used in monitoring patients’ vital signs including temperature, heart rate, blood, and oxygen levels, and relay responses to doctors and nurses remotely.

Five humanoid robots have been delivered to Rwanda by their Belgium-based manufacturer ostensibly to help boost the country’s efforts to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic. They will conduct patient screening, deliver food and drugs to patients, as well as act as video-conferencing links between patients and doctors. The robots have been promptly given Rwandan names – Akazuba, Ikizere, Mwiza, Ngabo and Urumuri.

More Robots are Coming

According to the Rwandan Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, the main purpose for the robots to be used in this manner is to reduce health workers’ exposure to COVID-19 patients. “We need additional robots for other duties like disinfection in public spaces and we are working to get them,” he said.

The anti-epidemic robots have many extra capabilities. These include: the ability to screen 50-150 people per minute, recording and storing patient data, alerting health workers to abnormalities, and warning people who aren’t wearing masks or are wearing them improperly.

The robots are the result of joint efforts by the Rwandan Ministry of ICT and Innovation and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “The infectious nature of COVID-19 calls for technological innovations to tackle the pandemic. This is why Rwanda has introduced robots and drones among other high-tech initiatives to enhance efficiency in the fight,” ICT and Innovation Minister Paula Ingabire said.

Rwanda, a major innovation and technology hub in Africa, has recorded 308 coronavirus cases so far, with zero deaths and 209 recoveries, according to official figures. The country has only two COVID-19 treatment facilities; one in the capital city of Kigali and another Nyamata. To date, more than 52 300 tests have been carried out in the country of over 12 million.