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Vodacom, Discovery launch free online COVID-19 screening platform

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South African mobile operator Vodacom and medical insurance and financial services giant Discovery are partnering to offer free online COVID-19 screening and consultations to all South Africans.

The partnership has given rise to an online healthcare platform, which gives South Africans access to a COVID-19 risk tool and allows them to immediately schedule virtual healthcare professional consultations and get advice from doctors.

The online approach aims to reduce overcrowding at clinics and doctors' rooms where there is greater risk of the virus spreading, and also protects healthcare professionals from potential repeated exposure to COVID-19.

South Africa is on day seven of a 21-day government-ordered lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. As of April 2, South Africa had over 1,380 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 31 recoveries and five deaths from the virus.

Meanwhile, Reuters had counted 935,392 infections globally and 46,906 deaths, while 190,384 people had already recovered from the virus.

Through this partnership, Discovery's existing DrConnect platform, which was previously available only to Discovery clients, is now accessible to all South Africans.

Together, Vodacom and Discovery have also jointly created a fund to pay doctors for approximately 100,000 consultations, making them free to any South African. Vodacom and Discovery are each contributing R10 million ($540,000) to the fund for a total of R20 million ($1.08 million).

Vodacom and Discovery said in an emailed statement that telemedicine has proved invaluable globally in the management of the pandemic, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating for digital healthcare tools and virtual consultations to be the first step and primary means of healthcare support during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Our partnership with Discovery can go a long way in alleviating any increased pressure on healthcare practitioners while at the same time empowering citizens by connecting them to doctors," said Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub.

"Through the online doctor consultation platform, anyone looking for COVID-19 related information will be connected to a network of doctors who will be readily available to answer their questions," Joosub added.

The online healthcare platform is free to use and available on any web or mobile phone facilitating a full consultation with a doctor either through video or audio calls or by text.

The service can be accessed by visiting either the Discovery or Vodacom websites using a PC or smartphone. Vodacom feature phone users can also get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD by dialing *111#.

Discovery Group CEO Adrian Gore also said he was very hopeful that this initiative will make a huge impact on the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa, for the good of all citizens.

"Discovery has been built on a very simple but powerful core purpose: making people healthier. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic that purpose is very simple – we need to keep South Africans out of harm's way," he said.

Here is how to access and use the online doctor consultation service:

1. Start the process by visiting either the Discovery’s COVID-19 information hub or Vodacom’s website. Members of Discovery Health Medical Scheme can access the service through the Discovery app. Vodacom customers can get additional information and do a self-assessment via USSD by dialing *111#.

2. Utilise the COVID-19 self-screening risk assessment tool, by answering a few easy questions.

3. If you are confirmed as high risk of having COVID-19, a short registration and consent process on the DrConnect app will follow.

4. Book a virtual consultation with a doctor who is available to assess the need for COVID-19 testing.

5. If the doctor recommends testing, a photo of the completed pathology form will be sent to you by SMS, WhatsApp or email. The same process will apply to scripts for medicine.

6. Testing and collecting of medicine will be facilitated by the relevant essential healthcare service providers that you have to visit.

7. Doctors will receive test results electronically and can then advise if you should schedule follow-up appointments to discuss results and next steps.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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