Nairobi, Kenya – Many countries have been working hard to battle misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, which circulates rapidly through local and social media. At the same time, information on COVID-19 and how it is being addressed varies widely from country to country.
Against this background, the Ministry of Health of Kenya requested the Philips Foundation – through the SDG Partnership Platform – to help enable access to life-saving information on COVID-19 from a central and trustworthy source. The Ministry of Health plays a critical role in providing information and guidance to society in the fight against COVID-19. Access to accurate information should support effective prevention, which is absolutely essential, considering the country’s limited capacity to deal with the pandemic.
The Philips Foundation engaged a young Kenyan app developer to build a chatbot with support from Facebook, WhatsApp’s parent company. Accessible via WhatsApp, the chatbot enables Kenyans to find reliable and trustworthy information on COVID-19. This can range from basic information about the novel coronavirus to access to support via the free national hotline in cases of (suspected) infection. The chatbot also provides information on how to avoid contracting and spreading the virus, and how the country is fighting it.
The next step in our plan is to make the chatbot available in local languages (e.g. Swahili, Kenya’s second language), and to make it available for other countries that want to provide automated, clear responses on the essential questions from the public related to COVID-19. The chatbot also helps people looking for advice on how to work, live, educate and take care of themselves in these unprecedented circumstances within their own local context.
How it works
The chatbot is easily accessible by adding a phone number as a contact to WhatsApp and simply starting a conversation ("Hi"). Monitoring use of the chatbot will make it possible to adapt content and provide targeted information to meet the information needs of the users as the pandemic evolves.
This initiative follows the successful effort of the World Health Organization and the South African government, which developed a similar chatbot to inform people about the novel coronavirus.
If you live or are based in Kenya, contact toll-free line 719 or WhatsApp (+254) (0) 110 719 719 to receive the latest on COVID-19. 40,000 people have accessed the chatbot already, and Facebook is now supporting migration to their server to reach millions more.