SA WhatsApp service goes global in Covid-19 fight

The World Health Organization’s WhatsApp information service is so successful in South Africa it will be used around the world.The free service, the first of its kind launched globally by the WHO, garnered 10 million users within three days of its March 20 launch
The World Health Organization’s WhatsApp information service is so successful in South Africa it will be used around the world.The free service, the first of its kind launched globally by the WHO, garnered 10 million users within three days of its March 20 launch
~

The World Health Organization plans to reach at least 50 million people with a WhatsApp information service that delivers information on demand about the coronavirus and is so successful in South Africa it will be used around the world.

The free service, the first of its kind launched globally by the WHO, garnered 10 million users within three days of its March 20 launch. It employs artificial intelligence to offer information on topics ranging from symptoms of the disease and where to get tested to debunking myths about it.

As the pandemic spreads in Europe and the US, the WHO is stepping up efforts to speak directly to citizens around the world. While information may be less readily available in regions such as Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America, many people have mobile phones.

We want to give everyone a democratisation of health messages

Social media can circumvent government communications that may be inadequate because of a lack of resources or political considerations, said Andy Pattison, manager of digital solutions at the WHO in Geneva.

“We want to give everyone a democratisation of health messages,” he said.

“More messages to more channels to more people, that’s what we are trying to do. The coronavirus has just acted as a catalyst to get a lot more things done quickly.”

The organisation will work together with Praekelt.org, a non-profit company that developed the service in South Africa, where it now has 2.6 million users. That company was introduced to the WHO by WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook.

“I am exhausted but very excited, I think it’s very important,” said Gustav Praekelt, the founder of Praekelt.org.

“What we will see is the largest global messaging campaign” ever, he said.

A discussion between Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Facebook, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, paved the way for the launch, said Pattison. There are plans to start the service on other messaging apps such as Rakuten’s Viber, which is popular in eastern Europe.

Watch: Madiba's message about handwashing

In English for now, the service will be launched in Arabic and Spanish this week and is expected to be made available in more than 20 languages, including Italian, Farsi and Kiswahili.

“We have just seen an such an exponential growth – when we roll out the languages it’s going to be extraordinary,” said Pattison. – Bloomberg


Latest issue

July 2020

Latest issue
All the news from City Press.
Read now
Voting Booth
South African truck drivers have threatened to not return to work and instead allow foreign nationals to be at the forefront of the trucking industry should employers continue with their preferential hiring tendencies/ if things don’t change.
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Agree. Put SA first
48% - 83 votes
Foreigners have rights
18% - 32 votes
It smacks of Xenophobia
34% - 59 votes
Vote