Activator Dr Nosiphiwe Ngqwala shares her opinion on the pandemic and 4IR

By Lwazi Nongauza

The emergence of the novel coronavirus occurred during a time when the fourth industrial revolutionary had begun to make headway in the country and the value of e-commerce truly emerged.

Speaking during an interview with Activate Leadership, Dr Nosiphiwe Ngqwala, a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Pharmacy at Rhodes University says it was possible to fill our fridges and cupboards, as well as medicine cabinets, without leaving our homes. Many of these e-commerce platforms will continue to flourish long after lockdown. On the other hand, the analogue world – hotels, restaurants, airlines, billboards, shopping malls – have been hardest hit during this pandemic,” says Dr Ngqwala.

On the impact of 4IR on our healthcare system, Dr Ngqwala says digitisation is disruptive and is changing healthcare from a reactive model to a system that focuses on predictive, preventative, personalised and participatory care.

“Traditionally, healthcare systems functioned in silos and non-communicable diseases were managed in much the same way. An integrated approach and collaborative efforts are needed to ensure empowered patient care,” says Dr Ngqwala.

She says South Africa is not as advanced as China when it comes to technology but researchers in our own country are using every tool at their disposal, like supercomputers, software apps, virtual reality, big data and algorithms to try and bring this virus to its knees. China has utilised robots in sanitisation of hospitals, airports and roads: “Not to mention taking people’s temperatures. We’re also utilising technology in other ways to make headway in combating this deadly virus,” says Dr Ngqwala.

She noted the strides the country has been making in adapting to new ways of doing things including employees’ daily habits in terms of saving many people a considerable amount of travelling. “The country has adopted new ways of thinking and working – meetings, training sessions, even conferences and product launches can continue without anyone having to leave their homes. Platforms and apps like Zoom, Slack, Trello and Basecamp have been a common language, enabling teams to stay connected without being in the same office,” she noted.

As the country experiences level three lockdown where volumes of people will be travelling using public transport, Dr Ngqwala says,”It will be interesting to see how people adjust to the daily commute after the pandemic is over. Schools and universities may also be forced to investigate digital or remote learning solutions.”

She said the creative economy should ride along the changing tide and flourish during these unprecedented times, as people will be forced to find innovative solutions to disruptive problems.

On what the future holds, Dr Ngqwala says it is still impossible to say what the spread of the coronavirus will look like in South Africa, or when it will end, because countries have been affected so differently. “It’s hard to imagine that we’ll go back to doing things in the same old way after the pandemic is over. This is perhaps just what the 4IR needed to kick start into gear. Whichever way you look at it – things will never be the same again. The youth of today will be challenged to come up with new solutions.”

This is a story from the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers Network. A network of over 4200 diverse young people driving change for the public good across South Africa. Members of this network, Activators, are connected by their passion, skills, sense of self and spark to address tough challenges.

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