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Updated Mar 27, 2020

A WhatsApp information service that disseminates information on the COVID-19 pandemic, first tested in South Africa, will now be implemented globally by the World Health Organization to reach more than 50 million people. The free HealthAlert service was developed by the non-profit organization in South Africa, where it now has 2.6 million users. It provides information on symptoms and where testing can be done, and debunks common myths about the disease. The app is currently in English, but Arabic and Spanish versions will come out this week, and there are plans to make it available in 20 other languages, including Farsi and Swahili.


Why It Matters

Disseminating up-to-date and accurate information to the public can be difficult in any country that has weak infrastructure, an inefficient health system, or a political situation that frustrates global health initiatives. This new service by the WHO takes advantage of the growing number of mobile phone users in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing parts of the world to deliver that information. Amid the uncertainty as a consequence of COVID-19, dispelling false information becomes just as important as communicating facts. A service like this doesn’t have to reach everyone to do its job: by providing the same information to tens of millions of people, it allows those users to further spread the truth, drowning out medically dangerous advice and money-making scams.

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