Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General of NCDC, disclosed this in a signed statement on Thursday in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
Ihekweazu said that the aim was to keep Nigerians constantly informed on the outbreak and importantly share tips on how best to stay safe and prevent the spread of the virus.
“Today, NCDC has launched a Coronavirus service on WhatsApp.
“The Coronavirus Information Service is a 24/7 automated ‘chatbot’ service which will provide Nigerians with answers to the most common questions on COVID-19, directly from the NCDC, across thematic areas such as public health advisories, frequently asked questions and myth busters.
“This service allows for two-way conversations on WhatsApp. The NCDC can send urgent and real-time messages to all Nigerians, who opt in to the service, while Nigerians can also engage directly with NCDC connect centre agent to share or get more information.
“All WhatsApp users can access the free information service by simply adding the number: +234-708-711-0839 to their phone contacts. To get started, users can text any key word for example, “Hi” to the number through WhatsApp chat which prompts a list of options,” he explained.
He said that the NCDC would also publish the WhatsApp support helpline number on its website, social media platforms and communication material distributed to the public.
Speaking on the collaboration with WhatsApp, the NCDC Director-General, described the WhatsApp support helpline as an important platform for disseminating information about COVID-19, and expressed how the service would support the ongoing work of the agency in keeping Nigerians informed about the outbreak.
“We are pleased about this collaboration with WhatsApp. With millions of WhatsApp users in Nigeria, this will enable us to scale-up and intensify communication on COVID-19, as well as sharing vital resources.
“This service will engage Nigerians and residents at all levels, on how they can take responsibility for their health protecting them from COVID-19,” the NCDC Boss noted.
Commenting on the development, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for Anglophone West Africa, Adaora Ikenze, said, “At difficult times like these, people use WhatsApp more than ever to connect with and support their friends, family and communities.
“We are pleased to be able to provide the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control with the communications tool to help them respond to citizens’ questions about the disease with reliable, timely health advice, in order to keep people safe.”
Ikenze noted that the COVID-19 Information Service had been built on the WhatsApp Business API, using Infobip’s global communication platform to enable the sharing of timely, vital information about COVID-19.
She said that the chatbot provides users with 24/7 instant access to all information about the virus.
“For more advanced queries, the chatbot will direct the user to online resources and have the ability to transfer to live agents for information outside the FAQ scope or to report a case.
“A number of health ministries around the world are already running Coronavirus health information lines on WhatsApp, including the World Health Organization (WHO), Singapore Government, Israel’s Ministry of Health and the South Africa Department of Health with more services expected to launch in the coming days and weeks.
“Just last week; WHO launched a WHOHealthAlert on WhatsApp, a free-to-use service designed to answer questions from the public about Corona virus, and to give prompt, reliable and official information 24 hours a day, worldwide,” she disclosed.
She noted that the service would also served as government decision-makers by providing the latest COVID-19 cases and situation reports.
Infobip is a global cloud communications platform that enables businesses to build connected customer experiences across all stages of the customer journey at scale, with easy and contextualized interactions over customers’ preferred channels.
Accessed through a single platform, Infobip’s omni-channel engagement, identity, user authentication, security and contact center solutions help clients and partners overcome the complexity of consumer communications, grow their business and increase loyalty– all in a fast, secure and reliable way.
The company serves and partners with over 800 leading mobile operators, numerous messaging apps, banks, social networks, tech companies and aggregators across six continents.
Amaka E. Nliam