Seasoned businesswoman Omolara Svensson is the MD/CEO of OOK Group Nig Ltd. She has vocally taken a public stand in the fight against COVID-19. In this interview with MILLICENT AREBUN ONUOHA, Svensson speaks on her stance on the usage of nose masks, the new digital health monitoring service her company is bringing Nigerians to support the fight against the spread of the virus among other issues.
In your Opinon to what extent has COVID-19 impacted or changed our social and fashion lifestyle?
It has been a heavy blow on our day to day lifestyle. It has affected every lifestyle especially our social life. Regardless what your social life is, it has been affected by the pandemic because you can’t mingle or meet with people as you wish. I even have a couple of friends who have vowed not to come out of their house until a vaccine is found. Some have laid off their domestic staff and ‘oga’ is now doing his pressing and ironing by himself because he doesn’t want to be exposed to COVID-19. This is how bad the virus has affected our lifestyle. Nose mask fashion is one way the virus has impacted our fashion globally.
Regarding usage of the stylish African print nose mask and surgical mask; what is your stance on this?
I personally find wearing a mask so uncomfortable but that’s the thing with human life, we adapt. Now in the house sometimes I have to remind myself to take off my mask because now it has become a part of my life. The basic use of wearing a mask is to contain whatever comes out when you speak. It’s actually face and nose coverage they are asking of us. So it could be in stylish African fabrics that is currently trending on social media but I advise people to wear the surgical mask. Thus because the surgical mask helps you breathe better. The African print nose masks are more fashionable but the surgical masks are more functional. No one should say that wearing of masks does not help, it does help, its commonsensical, its science, its mathematics and has been proven.
What is fashion to you ?
Fashion to me is a customised way you express yourself through your looks.
Do you have a beauty routine that is responsible for your glowing skin?
I use a lot of natural oil, and body scrubs.
What is that one fashion or beauty item you would go back home for if you forgot it ?
My facial scrub and sun glasses.
Tell us about HMSN?
The product we are launching now is the Health Monitoring Service Nigeria. Basically, the HMSN can be used for individual health monitoring purposes but since the breakout of COVID-19 and its rapid spread, it has been customised to deal with COVID-19 virus. This application at the moment is being deployed in other parts of the world but this is the first of its kind in Nigeria. What this does basically is, mathematics and Artificial Intelligence(AI). You are expected to log on first thing in the morning and answer some basic questions prompted by the app. The only thing you need to do is ensure you have a thermometer handy to take your temperature and the rest of the questions is a YES or NO answer. If its a no, you don’t have to do anything else but if it’s a YES, you would need to answer follow up questions prompted by the app. The AI then takes this information and process it based on all the progress that scientists and researchers have made in regards to COVID-19 virus. As you put in your data daily, the AI then builds your profile. For instance, if John has a normal fever for the seven days and all of a sudden his temperature jumped up from 38 to 40 within a given period, automatically the AI sends a notification to John saying “you have gone from severity level 2 to 3. If John’s temperature stays high and increases, the AI sends another notification to alert John that his severity level has increased again and advises him to seek medical help, get tested or call the authorised helplines, for he is likely to be COVID-19 positive. In a situation whereby this application is being used by a company or organisation, the process is that most likely the company appoints an individual to manage the dashboard, whoever manages the dashboard also gets a notification that John has gone from severity level 3 to 5. What this does is that it sends a red signal to the organisation so they can make adequate preventive and operational adjustments.
What about security and abuse of privileged information?
The system is built in a way that security-wise no one can have access to your data apart from you. We work with a security company called Yoti most people in the UK would know the app. In order for you to get on our HMS, you have to download Yoti, for it does all the KYC for us. Yoti stores your information but doesn’t in itself have access to your information. What Yoti does is that it collects your information, approves and authenticate it and then encrypt the data. This is the same app that the NHS in the UK uses to store its clients’ data. HMS or even your company has access to your data except you or whoever you give permission to access it. This is even a bit limited because of the three-step verifications consisting of facial recognition, barcode and password.
Why should anyone subscribe to HMSN?
In layman’s term, a lot of people are either getting tested because of fear. Any time we have symptoms of any ailment similar to those with COVID-19, we panic, get tested and live in fear even when we most likely don’t have COVID-19. HMSN helps us to first take away the fear and panic which has led to many people dying unnecessarily. It also helps to save time and money, as the app will let you know that you do not have symptoms of COVID-19 even when the symptoms are similar. In regards to corporate bodies, religious places of worship, schools and more, it helps to arm oneself against been exposed to someone else who might be infected with the virus. Personally, this is the aspect of the services I love most. For instance, if I have twenty staff members, there is no way to guarantee or ascertain or even trust who these staffs have come in contact with or how careful they are when it comes to exposing themselves. What this app does is that if I have subscribed maybe all my domestic staffs to the platform, I then get a notification if their severity level changes. Immediately I can let my staff know that until she has been to the hospital, tested and cleared do not come in contact with the rest of us. This way we can curtail the virus in a real sense.
Can the app be definite in telling if you have COVID-19 or not?
The app is a diagnosis system and not diagnostic in the sense that all it tells you is that based on researches so far and your imputed symptoms, you most likely have COVID-19 and need to see a doctor or contact your help care lines immediately
So it is not exact?
No, nothing is exact until you have done the test. The app helps you know that you don’t have the flu or cold but are displaying symptoms of COVID -19.
How effective is this platform especially when it depends solely on users imputing data twice daily?
Everyone knows that this virus or pandemic is real so if you have the HMSN on your phone to help you guard against it and protect your loved ones, I don’t think its something anyone would want to skip or not forget to input.
What if someone deliberately manipulates data by skipping days or not inputting true figures or symptoms?
This is AI and mathematics, you can’t cheat it or manipulate it to get the desired result. If for instance, someone stopped inputting data and then started again, the graph shows it noting the discrepancies. It then starts processing the inputted data all over again, if the irregularities are frequent or develop a pattern, the app points you out as a danger and sends a notification to your corporate dashboard (if you subscribed through an organisation).
Since the HMSN is geared toward safeguarding against COVID-19, what happens when COVID-19 is no more?
This is a personal health monitoring service so it can be customised to suit the health needs of the end-user. For instance, insurance companies can decide to customise this decision tree that of their clients who are diabetic. Anyone can reach us to customise it to meet their health needs or what they want monitoring, be it high blood pressure, malaria or more.
On the prevalent perception in Nigeria that COVID-19 isn’t real or will be a thing of the past soon, what do you have to say?
I got into the country a few days back and I want to buttress to every Nigerian that COVID-19 is real and is mostly going to be here for a while. A part of Manchester has just been put on a complete lockdown again. The grace of God upon Nigeria is massive and I don’t understand it. I have been around for about a week and I have seen how the people are taking the virus lightly and it is scary. I have known people that died of the pandemic and also know people who have seen hundreds die within days from the virus, so it’s real. There is nothing like COVID-19 doesn’t happen to black people, I have known Nigerians who died from this virus. It’s most likely that the pandemic would become an endemic whereby people learn to live with it or a vaccine is created to combat its effects. The fact that there is a cure for mosquito does not mean I will expose myself to mosquito bites. So even if COVID-19 is going to go away soon doesn’t mean I have to expose myself to it.
How long does one have to input data on the platform to get a diagnosis?
Normally I would say between 5-7 days because the AI need to have some basic information, just like when you go to a doctor and you tell them your symptom and the go “How long have you been feeling this way? ”
Measures put in place to protect affected primary users from abuse or stigmatization by third-party users; in this case the organisation?
Firstly we would be having medical centres we would be working with. Hopefully Lagos state ministry of health as well. Once your organisation is notified about the fact that you need to go get tested due to changes in your severity status; depending on the organisation’s arrangement, you may be asked to go tested by the LSMH and we all know they have seven certified labs which means your test results cannot be manipulated or called into doubt by anyone. On stigmatization, I am aware of government parastatals that are working to orientate people on this because this isn’t a virus that anyone does anything to get nor is it restricted to a certain class of people. It can affect anyone so anyone looking down or talking bad or acting some type of way to anyone affected by the virus is ridiculous because no one is exempt. Organisation wise, there are company rules that affect staff privacy and vice versa. I do not think that any solid organisation would sack someone for fear of COVID especially after treatment. If this happens then the staff should resort to legal channels to get justice.
Who designed this programme?
HMSN is brought to us by OOK group and I am the MD of OOK Nigeria limited. We have been operational for almost two decades and have vast experience in commodity exports, real estate and hotel/ restaurant management. HMSN in every other part of Europe is known as National Health Monitoring services and it’s an Isle of Man-based IT health technology company. The founder is Mr Dion Chrone who addressed us at the Launch.
How affordable is this service?
It is very affordable. When this product was brought to us, my first insistence was that it had to be something that every Nigeria can afford without breaking the bank. HMSN has four different plans or packages averaging between 2500 per month for individuals to 150,000 for corporations with over a hundred to five hundred staff signed up to their account.
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