UCU Law student creates COVID-19 awareness application
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/05/ucu-law-student-creates-covid-19-awareness-application/
(NOTE: On May 4, Uganda President Museveni announced a 14-day extension of the lockdown measures. Adjustments from the previous order include that some businesses are allowed to operate and all persons must wear face coverings in public places. The ban on personal and public transport, as well as the curfew of 7 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. remain in effect at least through the middle of May. On May 7, there were 98 identified cases of the coronavirus in Uganda.)
By Douglas Olum
When Christopher Mogal Muchwa first heard about the COVID-19 outbreak in China from his Chinese friend, and the subsequent lockdown in Wuhan, the very city his friend lives in, he never thought the same would reach Uganda. And he certainly never thought he would delve into technology related to the virus.
“My Chinese friend told me that they were not allowed to move out,” Muchwa recalled. “And if they wanted to take evening walks, they would only walk through the corridors and stairs of their apartment buildings, then return to their rooms.”
That, Muchwa thought months ago,“was impossible” for the country of Uganda.
But on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, when Uganda’s president, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, directed the closure of schools and banned all forms of social gatherings including church and political rallies, Muchwa realized he was wrong.
A third-year student of Bachelor of Laws at Uganda Christian University (UCU), an orphan and only child to his late parents, Muchwa did not rush to his home in Lira, northern Uganda, like other students did when the university was officially closed on Friday, March 20. Instead, he went to live with a friend to his late mother, Mary Achoma, who resides in Mukono.
“I did not see the need to return to Lira because I would be all by myself, “ Muchwa said.
He started preparing for the UCU planned take-home examinations but the Government of Uganda stopped these. Muchwa found himself with time to think more about the world pandemic, particularly as it related to Uganda. In a traditional attorney/lawyer way of thinking, he wondered what was true and what was false; he wondered if others could use some help in sorting out the facts.
That’s when he got the idea for developing a free access mobile application to help share authentic information about COVID-19 among Ugandans.
“I knew that all the [Government] Ministries had websites, but most people do not visit those,” Muchwa said. “And many times they rely on social media information which may not be true. Someone can screen shoot a tweet by a Government official and edit the information, causing unnecessary panic among the public.”
Prior to the lockdown, Uganda already suffered from COVID-19 fake news. In late February, there emerged an allegation that two Chinese factory workers living in Seeta (Mukono) had tested positive with the Coronavirus, and that they had been put into isolation by the Ministry of Health. The Ministry denied that claim. Other rumors persisted.
Muchwa saw African IT specialists with his idea, but seeking funds to develop a more accessible, honest information tool. While they waited, Muchwa moved ahead with his “COVID Guide.”
The application uses specific words, or “commands,” to derive and give replies to the user. Some of the command key words include: Ministry of Health (MoH), World Health Organization (WHO) and the names of all 134 districts of Uganda. It contains incorporated links to the Uganda’s Ministry of Health and World Health Organization websites which help one easily get up-to-date information about new cases, total number of infections in the country, quarantine centres, recoveries, risk groups, among other relevant information.
Other features of the COVID Guide are emergency helplines for the ministry and district COVID-19 taskforce. Typing in the name of a district, even without Internet connection, brings the contact of the Resident District Commission of that district and his/her deputy. One can also use the same app to order a product from the market, especially Kampala markets, direct the dealer to put in on a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) and receive it from home.
Muchwa admits that in addition to his passion for law, he is an “IT geek.” He is self taught, learning a little from a cousin who is an IT specialist but also from YouTube videos.
Prior to building this app, Muchwa built the Law Library app sui-genris, through which law students access learning materials, including some books. He also built a hostel-booking app through which UCU students can check hostels around the university and book them even from a far. He built a website for the UCU Law Society and Bobics app, for a fast food business outside the university.
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