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COVID-19 and Whatsapp

How gov and institutions are using whatsapp to create awareness and information

As the Coronavirus pandemic spreads, people all over the globe are turning to the World Health Organization for official, trusted health information and advice. Today we are extremely pleased to announce the launch of the World Health Organization’s Health Alert on WhatsApp. The new service, which is free to use, has been designed to answer questions from the public about Coronavirus, and to give prompt, reliable and official information 24 hours a day, worldwide. This will also serve government decision-makers by providing the latest numbers and situation reports.  

To contact the WHO Health Alert, save the number +41 79 893 1892 in your phone contacts and then simply text the word ‘Hi’ in a WhatsApp message to get started. The service responds to a series of prompts and will be updated daily with the latest information. You can also visit the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub at whatsapp.com/coronavirus, and click on the WHO link on the homepage to open up a chat with the WHO Health Alert if you have WhatsApp installed.  

The WHO Health Alert will provide official information on topics such as how to protect yourself from infection, travel advice, and debunking Coronavirus myths. The service is initially launching in English but will be available in all six United Nations languages within the coming weeks (English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.) 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO said: “Digital technology gives us an unprecedented opportunity for vital health information to go viral and spread faster than the pandemic, helping us save lives and protect the vulnerable. We are proud to have partners like Facebook and WhatsApp, that are supporting us in reaching billions of people with important health information.”

Since February, WhatsApp has reached out to dozens of governments to assist their efforts to provide accurate information to the general public. The WHO Health Alert is the latest official NGO or government helpline to become available on WhatsApp, joining the Singapore Government, The Israel Ministry of Health, the South Africa Department of Health, and KOMINFO Indonesia. We are actively working to launch local services with other countries as well. 

Earlier this week WhatsApp, in partnership with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and UNDP, launched the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub, to provide simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, nonprofits, local governments and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate. The site also offers general tips and resources for users around the world to reduce the spread of rumors and connect with accurate health information. 

WhatsApp also announced a $1M grant to the International Fact Checking Network to support fact-checking for the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, to report on rumors that may be circulating on various messaging services including WhatsApp or SMS.

Indian Health Ministry uses Whatsapp for information dissemination

The Ministry of Health and MyGov, along with WhatsApp, have launched a helpline number to raise awareness and answer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. While people are socially distancing, they continue to rely on WhatsApp to consult with their doctors and health professionals and stay in touch with their friends and family in a simple, reliable and secure way. Starting today, WhatsApp users across the country can reach out to the Ministry of Health on +91 9013151515 for credible information and to verify any uncertain information on precautionary measures or treatment practices.

To contact the helpline, citizens should save the WhatsApp number in their phone, and then start a chat by typing “Hi” and sending it to the number, which will prompt them to either type in a query or choose from a list of frequently asked questions. Depending on the question, users will receive verified information in the form of a video, infographic or text. This service will act as a great resource for people to have access to updated information on the pandemic. This combined effort by The Ministry of Health, MyGov and WhatsApp will help contribute to the safety and wellbeing of the Indian people.

“In times of global crisis such as the COVID 19 Pandemic, it is imperative that we rely only on factually correct and verified information. I commend Facebook for this great effort to synergise facts from credible sources and put it in the public domain through a popular messaging platform like WhatsApp. It shall definitely have a resounding positive impact on public health. When facts are incorrect, it leads to panic and takes the form of a vicious cycle. I appeal to people, transcending all borders, to use precautions that are being given out through official sources and to NOT get misled by myths that are circulated by mischievous elements.” Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Science & Technology, Earth Sciences

“Access to credible sources of information is critical to battling Coronavirus and is our top priority. We appreciate the opportunity to work with the Ministry of Health and MyGov on this initiative. We encourage users across the country to depend on verified sources for any information during this period” said Abhijit Bose, Head of India for WhatsApp

In addition to the MyGov helpline, users can reach out to the  fact-checking community, whose details can be found on our recently launched WhatsApp Coronavirus Information hub. People can also receive health alerts by messaging WHO on the Health Alert line available at whatsapp.com/coronavirus. This is another step of many that WhatsApp has taken during the last week to engage directly with various governments and global institutions around the world for people to request for information and address their queries on coronavirus over WhatsApp.

Vice President and Managing Director of Facebook India, Ajit Mohan also commented, “Technology can play a very vital role in India’s efforts against the outbreak. This unique collaboration with the government across multiple ministries is a strong beginning. And, as a company, we stand ready to help the country in any way we can to support the fight against the spread of the corona virus.“

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