How technology is keeping elderly Egyptians safe during coronavirus crisis

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.

“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.



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