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2020 has seen the COVID-19 pandemic sweep across the entire globe. While the USA, Italy, Spain, the UK, Iran, and China have reported the highest number of cases and death tolls, the infectious viral disease has spread to many other countries as well. As a result, lockdowns ranging from moderate to severe have been enforced, and economies have taken hits, with the future still uncertain. Amid all the uncertainty, there’s a lot of COVID-19 related misinformation being spread around on Whatsapp as well.
To counter the misinformation, the World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a Whatsapp chatbot titled the WHO Health Alert.
Why a Whatsapp chatbot?
Over the years, Whatsapp has grown rapidly, and at present, it is the undisputed champion of messaging apps, having approximately 2 billion active users worldwide. The numbers continue to grow with every passing day.
However, with Whatsapp’s success has also come to its misuse. What was meant to be a tool for seamless communication between individuals and groups of people has today become a source of misinformation. Rumors and fake news from unverified sources are regularly circulated on Whatsapp, and the nature of Whatsapp messages makes such information difficult to track.
Even in recent months, as the world has battled with the coronavirus pandemic, the Whatsapp fake news brigade has not stopped manufacturing content. From spreading hate to misguiding people regarding the potential cures of the coronavirus, its effects have been too serious to ignore. Even though Whatsapp has tried to curb the spread of misinformation by imposing forwarding limits, it has not managed to do enough.
Some of the fake news that has been circulated worldwide include the death of the coronavirus in warm weather, drinking hot water to eliminate the coronavirus, and a football pitch turned into an oven for cooking food for the poor.
The World Health Organization (WHO), aiming to give people authentic and meaningful information related to the COVID-19 pandemic, launched the chatbot, which works 24×7. Even though there is a full WHO website for detailed information related to the pandemic, the Whatsapp chatbot was introduced for reaching out to people more easily on a global scale.
How does it work?
To start a conversation with the WHO Whatsapp chatbot, users have to send a “Hi” to +41798931892. Following this, the chatbot responds through prompts that allow users to choose the type of information they are looking for based on their specific queries.
Some of the key elements covered by the chatbot include safety tips and precautionary measures that people should follow, the most frequently asked questions related to the pandemic, and the latest numbers in terms of total worldwide cases and deaths. Users can also become aware of the COVID-19 myths that are being circulated on Whatsapp and other social media platforms.
At the time of launch, the chatbot spoke only English, but WHO promised to add Russian, Spanish, French, Chinese, and Arabic in the “coming weeks”.
The Benefits of the WHO Whatsapp Chatbot
“Digital technology gives us an unprecedented opportunity for vital health information to spread faster than the pandemic, helping us save lives and protect the vulnerable,” said the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during the launch of the chatbot. He also believes social media platforms can be used to spread accurate information to the public directly.
The primary benefit of the chatbot is its round-the-clock availability, which ensures that people can get authentic coronavirus-related information whenever they want. It is also a single source for accessing all relevant COVID-19 related information.
Users can read up about all the COVID-19 symptoms and also know what steps to take if they think they are infected. The chatbot also provides social distancing guidelines that are meant to help users take all possible precautionary measures while out in public. There are general safety tips for people to stand the greatest chance of preventing contraction of the disease, such as hand-washing guidelines and how to use a mask effectively.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of the chatbot is that it dispels many myths that have gone viral, thanks to the misuse of Whatsapp and other social media platforms. It busts myths such as bleach being a cure for the coronavirus, which is very much necessary at a time when hundreds and thousands of people around the world are falling prey to hoaxes.
The threat of the coronavirus still looms large, and until and unless a vaccine is developed, the world will have to adopt new measures to stay safe and healthy. While lockdowns are only partially effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19, people too have to be aware, and the WHO Whatsapp chatbot goes a long way in raising awareness levels.
Brought to you by Singapore Chatbots. Want to build a chatbot? Drop us a note!