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AI transforms Limpopo healthcare

Public healthcare in South Africa is riddled with long wait times and fraud. In a rural part of South Africa, Microsoft and Mint Group used AI to address these problems, reports BRYAN TURNER.



If you’ve ever waited in line at a public hospital or clinic for medication, you know it can be a day-long wait in a queue for medicine that may or may not be in stock. Now the Mint Group, winner of several Microsoft Partner Awards, has teamed up with Limpopo Health to use artificial intelligence to cut wait times.

At a media round table during the Microsoft Ignite event in Sandton last week, Microsoft partners explained how the company’s solutions change the way future technologies are used today.

“Working with Limpopo Health was an interesting project,” said Peter Reid, Practice Head of Artificial Intelligence at Mint Management Technologies. “Firstly, the initial pilot was co-sponsored by Microsoft and it wouldn’t have happened without that investment. It was one of those interesting examples where we have the tool, which is AI, and the problem, which is our public health care, specifically primary health care clinics. We often see in our interactions with customers, they come up with a use case for AI that we would never have thought of, which is typical of any cutting edge technology.

“In this case, the customer has public clinics that have several problems. The primary problems were in terms of stock management for medicine.

“They said you’re not allowed to turn away a patient in South Africa at a health care facility. So a patient would come into a clinic and say I need my chronic meds, diabetes medication for example. Because there were no good digital systems, they’ll walk down the road and go to the next clinic and continue this pattern, in order to sell these meds on the black market. So this meant shrinkage for the clinics.

“The secondary problems are customer-facing. They have key management problems. There are typically 6 to 8 queues in a clinic and the social impact is big, which we never realised before we started.

“If you’re going to the clinic once a month and you’re spending a day queuing, that’s 12 days of the year of your leave that’s wiped out just by queuing At a clinic. A lot of problems are caused by taking so much leave, which affects the ability to go back home regularly.”

AI professionals at Mint Group got to work solving the problem using new technology, but not with the intention of applying AI for AI’s sake.

“We said ‘let’s take AI and apply it to your problems’,” said Reid. “We came up with a solution, which is based on face recognition and handles queue management in the clinics. So, as you walk in, if you’re not yet registered, you stand in front of the camera, it takes five to seven images for your profile, scan your ID or driver’s license, it does a Home Affairs lookup to validate who you say you are, then you’re registered on the system. From that point on the record is digital.

“Then you move from station to station within the clinic, which is handled by our queue engine. Every station that you reach can only unlock your patient details when your face is physically present. So that has obvious advantages like in the pharmacy, they can only dispense medication to you if you’re physically there when you’re in front of the camera. We have what we call liveness detection, so you can’t hold up a picture, which is a great way of reducing fraud. But more than that, your digital records are now tied to your face, which is non-transferable.”

“There’s a whole bunch of automatic tracking that’s happening as well,” said Craig Heckrath, an AI consultant at Mint Management Technologies. “We’re using facial identification, as you move from camera to camera. We know when you’ve arrived, until you’re at the front being served, so we can – behind the scenes – track the data.

“One of the things we often get asked is ‘what improvement do they have?’.

“The reality is: before, they had no data, they had no idea how long people queue for, which were the peak times, all that really important information they needed to do proper research management, they couldn’t do that. They just didn’t have the data, which is actually related to machine learning, and automated data is the best kind of data. It’s much cleaner and has less bias built-in, as opposed to somebody sitting over there tracking people, and maybe they get it wrong or they get bored.”

According to Johannes Kanis, cloud and enterprise business group lead at Microsoft, this is just scratching the surface of what’s to come with AI innovation.

“We’re working with customer industries like retail and finance because of the competitive nature of what they’re doing, but they’re not as forthcoming to talk about some of the cases like Mint Group has today. It’s very exciting to see where customers are taking the capabilities of technology and using it to solve business problems, and also drive competitive elements in the market.

“I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of what’s possible with AI. In the next 12 months I think we’re going to see a lot of exciting innovations in the industries around us.”


TikTok takes on COVID-19

The fastest growing social media platform in the world has also become an epicenter of public education about the coronavirus, attracting more than 30-billion views, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



The young have been getting a bad rap for wanting to party on while COVID-19 sends the world into lockdown. But a different movie is playing itself out on the social platform that is growing fastest among teenagers: TikTok.

Awareness campaigns by TikTok itself, collaboration with the International Red Cross, and spontaneous videos made by TikTok creators have combined into a barrage of information, education, awareness and social consciousness around the coronavirus.

Both globally and in South Africa, TikTok’s COVID-19 campaigns have gone viral.

The local #HayiCorona challenge, designed to remind people not to touch their face and wash hands regularly, has passed 1.5-million views. The TikTok collaboration with the International Red Cross, the #WashingHands challenge, has passed 12.6-million views.

One of the best-known participants in these challenges is the past year’s icon of South African talent, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, took up the global challenge with a 20-second hand-washing video. It put together a performance that brings tremendous energy to what can be a clichéd message, and ends with a punt for the Department of Health’s WhatsApp information service. The video can be viewed below.


Our community has limited access to running water. Follow these instructions on how to safely wash your hands using a bucket. ##coronavirus##washinghands

♬ original sound – ndlovuyouthchoir

“On a global scale, TikTok also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that, while creators are still having fun and expressing themselves on the platform, they stay informed with COVID-19 information coming from a reliable source,” a TikTok spokesperson told us. “Through the partnership, the WHO has created an informational page on TikTok that offers information to curb the spread of the coronavirus as well as dispelling myths.”

The page can be viewed at

TikTok has hosted a number of livestreams with WHO experts, attracting users from more than 70 countries, tuning in for live question and answer sessions. It has also introduced labels on coronavirus-related videos, to point users to trusted information. Resources are also offered directly in the app and in a dedicated COVID-19 section of TikTok’s Safety Center, at

If users simply want to explore videos on the topic, they can search via the #coronavirus hashtag, or click on The hashtag has had an astonishing 33.8-billion views, indicating the scale of activity and interest around the topic on the platform.

Read more on the next page about how South Africans have embraced the campaign.

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On World Backup Day: backup, backup, backup



It was World Backup Day yesterday, 31 March, at a time when business continuity is threatened as never before. That makes calls for protecting email and defending against ransomware all the more urgent.

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief many organisations’ lack of business continuity plans and policies. With more than two billion people around the globe in forced lockdown in wide-ranging government efforts to stem the tide of infections, an unprecedented number of employees are working remotely.

This interruption to the normal way of work is precisely what an effective and resilient business continuity strategy should plan for, says Heino Gevers, cybersecurity specialist at Mimecast

“Companies need uninterrupted access to critical business applications during times of disruption, including safe and secure web and email access for workers that are now operating outside the normal perimeters of the organisation,” he says. “In addition, comprehensive backup and archiving solutions should be ready to restore access to critical business applications should there be any unplanned downtime to ensure continuity until the crisis passes.”

According to Gevers, the current global crisis is likely to push business continuity up the list of priorities for many organisations that have been disrupted by the effects of the coronavirus.

“Organisations are facing new challenges to their productivity; for example in terms of technical support. If a remote user is infected with malware or ransomware, how does the IT team restore that device or do any remediation without being able to physically access it?”

Gevers advises that organisations implement tools that enhances the data protection capabilities of commonly-used tools such as Office365 and can leverage archived data to provide quick recovery of email data in the event of accidental loss, malicious attacks or technical failure. 

“As adoption of cloud-based business applications grow in the wake of forced lockdowns around the globe, companies need to ensure they have the tools to recover in any situation,” he says. “This includes a data management strategy that combines archiving, backup and data protection capabilities to allow for quick restoration of critical systems and applications in the event of disruption.”

Jasmit Sagoo, head of technology at Veritas for the United Kingdom and Ireland, warns that this is a golden age for cybercriminals looking for ransomware opportunities.

“As the global cost of ransomware continues to grow, this World Backup Day, Veritas is saying: ‘don’t pay up, back up!’,” he says. “Ransomware is said to generate an estimated annual revenue of $1 billion a year, and companies who are not consistent in backing up their data are allowing criminals to line their pockets.

“Ransomware attacks exist only because some businesses can’t survive unless the hackers give them back their data.  So, the key to survival is removing that reliance and being able to regain access to data, without engaging with the cybercriminals.  The best way to do that is with a sound backup strategy.

“Sagoo advises organisations to create isolated, offline backup copies of their data to keep it out of reach of any attackers.  They then need to proactively monitor and restrict backup credentials, while running backups frequently to shrink the risk of potential data loss. Businesses should also test and retest their ransomware defences regularly.

“Ransomware strikes without warning and it doesn’t discriminate between its targets – it can happen to any organisation, large or small. Despite their best efforts, most companies will fall to at least one attack. What distinguishes one victim from another is the ability to bounce back, which ultimately depends on its backup strategy.

“When ransomware hits, organisations that aren’t prepared often feel helpless to do anything other than to submit to their attacker’s demands.   That’s why we’re urging all businesses to use World Backup Day as a catalyst to get ahead of the situation and get their data protected.”

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