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Government Launches a WhatsApp Covid-19 Chatbot

On behalf of the Ugandan government, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of ICT and National Guidance with support from Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Uganda today launched a WhatsApp Chatbot to provide a central source of accurate, trustworthy and up-to-date information about Coronavirus for Ugandans.

The chatbot was developed in collaboration with Praekelt using Turn Technology and will allow Ugandans to get answers to the most common questions about the pandemic; coronavirus from the Ministry of Health. In addition, the chatbot will provide information about prevention & symptoms of the virus, the latest number of cases in Uganda, advice on staying at home, travel advisory and myth-busting.

The service will also enable the Ministry to send urgent messages to all Ugandans who will opt-in for the service.

Getting access to the chatbot, Ugandans that are on and using WhatsApp can simply add the number +256 32 3200660 to their phone contacts and type any word e.g. “Hi” to get started.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Dr. Diana Atwine described WhatsApp as a very important platform for disseminating information about COVID-19. She expressed how the new service will help the Ministry keep Ugandans informed about the pandemic.

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“We’re very happy with this collaboration with WhatsApp. As a Ministry, we are deploying both traditional and digital communication tools to disseminate trusted information about this virus.”

She added that WhatsApp’s partnership is helping them reach and interact with a wider segment of the population, so they can share the facts and provide accurate advice to Ugandans.

Hon. Judith Nnabakooba; Minister of ICT and National Guidance said, the chatbot “will not only provide vital information on the pandemic, but fight disinformation, and misinformation by negative elements.”

Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for East & Horn of Africa, Ms. Mercy Ndegwa said they are pleased to provide the Ministry of Health with communication tools to help them respond to citizens’ questions about the virus with reliable, timely health advice, in order to keep people safe.

She adds that at difficult times like these, people globally are using WhatsApp more than ever to connect with and support their friends, family and communities all because of the social distancing and more.

Facebook is with no doubt have been on its tip-and-toes, playing its role as a global social media platform to combat covid-19.

The launch of this chatbot 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 has also provided the Ministry of Health with free ad credits to enable them run coronavirus education campaigns on its platforms.

Facebook has introduced a Covid-19 Information Center, a feature at the top of its 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.

Notably, you can also access the web portal covid19.gou.go.ug which has legitimate facts on the status of COVID-19. Currently according to the portal, 139 have been tested positive with the virus, but there are no cases of death as yet.

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