World Health Organization launches COVID-19 information service on WhatsApp

WHO turns to Facebook-owned messaging platform to reach 2 billion people.

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Screenshot: Chris Duckett/ZDNet

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a chatbot on WhatsApp to provide information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeping the planet.

To interact with it, users will need to message the WHO account on +41 79 475 22 09 and send the word 'Hi' to begin chatting, after which, a list of prompts is returned to the user to access official information about the virus.

Information used will be updated daily and at this stage is only available in English. Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish are to follow in "coming weeks".

"Digital technology gives us an unprecedented opportunity for vital health information to go viral and spread faster than the pandemic, helping us save lives and protect the vulnerable," director-general of WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

WhatsApp also has its own information page that was produced along with UNICEF, United Nations Development Programme, and WHO. The company has also said it would give $1 million to the International Fact Checking Network to fight the spread of misinformation via SMS and over-the-top messaging services.

WhatsApp owner, Facebook, said last week it would begin to place COVID-19 information at the top of user's news feeds.

"The top focus for us is making sure people can get access to good, authoritative information from credible sources, pushing authoritative information across the network more broadly and making sure misinformation does not spread," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the time.

The social network chief said there were a number of hoaxes on his platform, including one that encourages people who are sick to not get treated, and another one telling people to drink bleach if they think they've been infected with the virus.

Over the weekend, Facebook contributed 720,000 masks to health workers that the company had stored in case of wildfires.