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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.”


Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving



For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit

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Coronavirus to hit 5G



Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
Rest of Market13941165
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
Rest of Market99%85%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here:

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