The Ministry of Health together with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance with support from Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Uganda have launched a Business API on WhatsApp. The free-to-use service will provide a central source of accurate, trustworthy and up-to-date information about Coronavirus (COVID-19) with the goal of keeping Ugandans safe and constantly informed about the virus.
The WhatsApp Business API which was developed in collaboration with Praekelt.org using Turn Technology is an automated ‘chatbot’ service which will allow Ugandans to get answers to the most common questions about Coronavirus from the Ministry of Health 24 hours a day. The service will also provide information on topics such as Coronavirus prevention and symptoms, the latest number of cases in Uganda, advice on staying at home, travel advisory and myth-busting. The service will also enable the Ministry of Health to send urgent messages to all Ugandans who will opt-in for the service.
WhatsApp users can access the free information service by simply adding the number +256 32 3200660 to their phone contacts and type any word e.g. “Hi” to get started. The Ministry of Health will also be publishing the number on its website and social media handles.
Speaking on the collaboration with WhatsApp, The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr Diana Atwine described WhatsApp as a very important platform for disseminating information about COVID-19, and expressed how the service will help the Ministry keep Ugandans informed about the pandemic. “We are very happy with this collaboration with WhatsApp. As a health ministry, we are deploying both traditional and digital communication tools to disseminate trusted information about this virus. We welcome WhatsApp’s partnership in helping us to reach and interact with a wider segment of the population, so we can share the facts and provide accurate advice,” she said.
In her comments, Minister for ICT & National Guidance, Hon Judith Nnabakooba appreciated the collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, to not only provide vital information on the COVID-19 pandemic, but in fighting disinformation, and misinformation by negative elements. The collaboration with Facebook has also included training government officials on the best practices of using Facebook tools on the government’s efforts around COVID-19.
Commenting on the development, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for East & Horn of Africa, Mercy Ndegwa said: “At difficult times like these, people use WhatsApp more than ever to connect with and support their friends, family and communities. We are pleased to be able to provide the Ministry of Health in Uganda with communication tools to help them respond to citizens’ questions about the virus with reliable, timely health advice, in order to keep people safe.”
A number of Health Ministries around the world are already running Coronavirus health information lines on WhatsApp, including the World Health Organization, Singapore Government, The Nigerian Centre of Disease Control, and the South Africa Department of Health. The World Health Organization also launched a WHO Health Alert on WhatsApp, a free to use service designed to answer questions from the public about Coronavirus, and to give prompt, reliable and official information 24 hours a day, worldwide. The service also helps government decision-makers by providing the latest COVID-19 cases and situation reports. For more information on how WhatsApp can help you stay connected during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, visit whatsapp.com/coronavirus.
The launch of a WhatsApp Business API to bolster the Ugandan government’s efforts to combat COVID-19 is one of the ways that Facebook has supported governments across East Africa. In Uganda, Facebook also enabled educational pop-ups on search results around the virus on all its platforms, the company also provided the Ministry of Health with free ad credits to enable them run coronavirus education campaigns on its platforms. Also launched in Uganda by Facebook is The CoVID-19 Information Center - a feature at the top of Facebook’s News Feed that provides real-time updates from national health authorities and global organisations such as the World Health Organization, as well as helpful articles, videos and posts about social distancing and preventing the spread of COVID-19.