Homelessness and drug addiction have been longstanding issues that affect populations across the world. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic turning everyone’s lives upside down, these vulnerable populations are often the ones who are hit the hardest. This has been particularly visible in South Africa.
To address homelessness and drug addiction in their community, the University of Pretoria Family Medicine Department launched the Community Oriented Substance Use Programme, or COSUP project, in 2016. According to the University of Pretoria’s website, the goal of the project is “to provide meaningful and effective community-based support for people who use, support, or are affected by harmful substance use. It focuses on evidenced-based approaches aimed at restoring functionality, improving health, and reducing the social destruction of harmful substance use.”
Over time, the COSUP project has grown to staff and maintain 17 treatment centers across the Pretoria region. With the COVID-19 lockdown, homeless people were accommodated in 24 shelters accommodating up to 2300 people. At these centers, patients can receive free shelter, food, and treatment to wean themselves off of their drug dependencies. The program combines substitute drug therapy with direct observational therapy from medical professionals, effectively carving out a path to sobriety for patients who, in the past, have been shunned, isolated, forgotten, and ignored.
However, just as the program was starting to feel established, COVID-19 threw a wrench in it. A pervasive mistrust of others quickly spread across Pretoria as people desperately tried to fight an invisible enemy, and this newfound mistrust made it far more difficult for medical workers to connect with and treat these vulnerable populations. This led to the establishment of shelters where homeless people are cared for. If the COSUP project was going to stand a chance in a world struggling to adapt to COVID-19, it needed to find a way to screen incoming patients for the virus quickly and effectively to rebuild trust between patients and practitioners.
COVID-19 screening made easy by Phulukisa
Thankfully, the COSUP project found a partner who could deliver this service in Phulukisa Health Solutions. Phulukisa is a Pretoria-based company led by CEO Raymond Campbell who was a practicing medical professional for 10 years before focusing on Phulukisa. “The University of Pretoria is my alma mater and we are based in the same city. We share the same goal, improving the health of our local, most vulnerable communities, so partnering together was a no-brainer,” explains Campbell.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, Phulukisa quickly recognized the need to rebuild trust between patients and providers at COSUP treatment centers. Within one week, Phulukisa had revamped their innovative patient screening solution to test for COVID-19, enabling quick and easy data collection via thermometers and oximeters, generating results for patients almost immediately. Within two weeks, the solution had been deployed to all 17 COSUP locations and 24 homeless shelters.
“Scaling the solution was so easy because it’s all built on Microsoft Azure,” explains Campbell. “It gives us access to the world’s best super-computer whenever and wherever we need it, and we only have to pay for what we use. It gives us the results we require in seconds; normally, it would take days or weeks. It also gives us insights and reports through Power BI. It’s like magic to our customers and partners, but to us, it’s our secret weapon.”