How technology is keeping elderly Egyptians safe during coronavirus crisis

Anas Naguib, an Egyptian software engineer and co-founder of NioTek, has come up with Sanad — an application connecting the elderly and special-needs individuals with volunteers in their area. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 August 2020

How technology is keeping elderly Egyptians safe during coronavirus crisis

  • A no-frills app allows emergency requests to be made and groceries to be ordered without exposure to risks
  • Sanad connects young men and women seeking volunteer work with the elderly and special-needs people

CAIRO: Once upon a time, a person could simply get in their car, pick up groceries, and go visit their parents without a worry in the world. This now feels like a distant memory and will remain so until a permanent solution to the COVID-19 crisis emerges.

Nowadays, responsible citizens heed the advice to keep their distance from others at all times, especially from those most vulnerable to the killer virus — the elderly and individuals with pre-existing health conditions.

But as people exercise caution and distance themselves from loved ones, another problem presents itself: How to make sure that their parents get what they need. They cannot put off eating and taking medications until further notice.

The best people can do is leave whatever their parents need at the doorstep, but what if the children live in another country and cannot board a plane to get home given that most flights are grounded? The last thing they would want is for their parents to go out shopping for necessities, exposing themselves to risk.

This was the situation facing Anas Naguib, an Egyptian software engineer and co-founder of NioTek — a tech startup providing 4.0 industry solutions.

When airports around the world began shutting down in mid-March, Naguib was on a work trip to Saudi Arabia, unable to make it back to Cairo. His primary concern was making sure that his ageing parents received what they needed without too much exposure to risk.

After miraculously finding a way to get back to Egypt, Naguib quickly learnt that many people around him shared the same concern about their parents, particularly those who live outside the country. It was then that he came up with the concept of Sanad — an application connecting the elderly and special-needs individuals with volunteers in their area.


READ MORE: A disinfection robot built by students combats COVID-19 in Lebanon


“We fully developed the application in less than a month, 25 days to be exact,” Naguib said. “Many young people are seeking volunteer work, and the elderly and special-needs individuals could use the help in such troubling times. So, we came up with this platform to connect them and make it easier for everyone.”

As Naguib and his team worked to develop the app in the shortest time possible, they came across a competition organized by the Cairo Angels, a prominent angel investment network.

The idea was to fund the project with the greatest potential to help Egyptians during the COVID-19 outbreak with 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($6,000). Sanad ended up winning the award, paving the way for the team to continue developing the potentially life-saving platform.

Fully aware that most elderly people are not keen on new technologies, Naguib and his team worked to make Sanad as user-friendly as possible.

“It’s a very simple app that’s based on voice notes to help the elderly or special-needs individuals use it easily,” Naguib said.

“There are two request options — groceries and medicine or emergency requests. We don’t share contact numbers between either side, but rather give them a chat window, which is modelled after the WhatsApp’s interface to make it look familiar so that they can communicate, confirm the order, maybe even send pictures of the exact products they need after a request has been placed and accepted by a volunteer.”

Naguib added: “One of our biggest barriers so far is building up the volunteering network — so far we have 50 volunteers across different areas, but we can’t launch services in any given area unless we have at least 10-15 volunteers so that we can meet the demand in that area.”

To that end, he has been in negotiations with a number of potential partners to launch a credit-based reward mechanism for volunteers. The more hours they put in, the more credit they get, which they can later redeem for discounts and promotions for other services and products.


Note: This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike

Updated 23 September 2020

Violence mounts against Iraqi doctors as COVID-19 cases spike

  • “All the doctors are scared,” said Sheibani, speaking at his home in Kufa a few weeks after the Aug. 28 attack
  • More than 8,000 people have died, a number that some doctors fear will rise sharply

NAJAF: Iraqi doctor Tariq Al-Sheibani remembers little else beyond cowering on the ground as a dozen relatives of a patient, who had just died of COVID-19, beat him unconscious.
About two hours later the 47-year-old director of Al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Najaf woke up in a different clinic with bruises all over his body.
“All the doctors are scared,” said Sheibani, speaking at his home in Kufa a few weeks after the Aug. 28 attack. “Every time a patient dies, we all hold our breath.”
He is one of many doctors struggling to do their job as COVID-19 cases rise sharply in Iraq.
They are working within a health service that has been left to decay through years of civil conflict and underfunding, and now face the added threat of physical attack by grieving and desperate families.
Reuters spoke to seven doctors, including the head of Iraq’s Medical Association, who described a growing pattern of assaults on medical staff. Dozens have taken place since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that the pandemic could spiral out of control in Iraq.

Tarik Sheibani, 47, an Iraqi doctor and director of Al-Amal Hospital, wears a protective suit at a hospital where he treats coronavirus disease patients, in Najaf, Iraq September 13, 2020. (Reuters)

Authorities have lifted many lockdown measures, allowing restaurants and places of worship to reopen, but they have shut borders to pilgrims ahead of a large Shiite Muslim pilgrimage that normally draws millions to the south of the country.
Iraq has recorded several thousand new coronavirus infections every day, and the total now exceeds 300,000.
More than 8,000 people have died, a number that some doctors fear will rise sharply, putting frontline health care workers under huge pressure and in some cases in physical danger.
The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the COVID situation in Iraq and medics’ complaints about the threat of violence.
Sheibani, whose beating went viral when CCTV footage circulated online, said the family of the deceased patient blamed his staff for the death. He said he did not know how the video reached the public domain.
The patient had arrived at hospital in critical condition.
“I hate myself and I hate the day I became a doctor in Iraq,” Sheibani told Reuters. “They brought the patient in his final stages and he died, and they want the health system to bear the responsibility.”
Enforcing health safety guidelines within the hospital is not always easy, especially when tensions between families of sick patients and hospital staff are running high.
During a recent visit to Sheibani’s hospital, which is a coronavirus isolation center, Reuters reporters saw relatives of COVID-19 patients coming in and out of the ward without wearing full protective gear as they are supposed to.
Some were only wearing surgical face masks.
Iraq is fighting the pandemic with a depleted force of doctors and nurses.
In 2018, it had just 2.1 nurses and midwives per thousand people, compared with Jordan’s 3.2 and Lebanon’s 3.7, according to official estimates. It had 0.83 doctors per thousand people, while neighboring Jordan, for example, had 2.3.
There are also significant shortages of drugs, oxygen, and vital medical equipment, the result of years of underspending.
Many young doctors say they are overworked, putting in 12-16 hour shifts every day meaning they are more likely to make mistakes in prescriptions and treatment. Some take kickbacks for handing over certain drugs, physicians told Reuters.
The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Government vows action
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has condemned the attacks against medical staff and promised to hold perpetrators to account.
The attacks have increased in recent months, said Medical Association president Abdul Ameer Hussein. He said his association could not keep track of all of them, but they include verbal and physical abuse and even stabbings.
Sheibani filed a complaint with police, but he said he had received threats from the people who beat him up to drop the case.

Tarik Sheibani, 47, an Iraqi doctor and director of Al-Amal Hospital, wears a protective suit as he walks at a quarantine ward at Al-Amal Hospital in Najaf, Iraq September 13, 2020. (Reuters)

“They might attack me or my family,” Sheibani said, adding that he no longer left his house alone.
Doctors say the government has not taken tough enough action to protect them from violence, which they have faced for years even before the pandemic.
The health ministry said in a statement on Saturday that it would assign its legal division to file lawsuits against those who attacked health workers, as well as those medics who fell short in treating patients.
According to the Medical Association, at least 320 doctors have been killed since 2003, when US-led forces toppled President Saddam Hussein, ushering in years of sectarian violence and extremist insurgencies.
Thousands more have been kidnapped or threatened.
Doctors and human rights activists say the state is so weak that it cannot bring doctor’s assailants to justice, especially if they come from a powerful tribe or belong to a militia.
“The government can’t protect doctors from tribes. Doctors end up dropping the cases because they receive threats,” said Hussein, adding that he often asks tribal leaders to mediate when a doctor is being threatened.
Doctors have gone on strike and protested in recent months over what they say is government inaction over the attacks.
Abbas Alaulddin, 27, a doctor in Baghdad who was assaulted last week by the family of a patient who died of COVID-19, said he was considering seeking asylum.
“The situation here is unbearable.”