WHO, Indian govt roll out Covid-19 helpline numbers on WhatsApp

WHO, Indian govt roll out Covid-19 helpline numbers on WhatsApp
Photo Credit: Reuters
23 Mar, 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set up a health alert number on Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp to spread awareness on Covid-19. Separately, the Indian government has also launched a WhatsApp chatbot called MyGov Corona Helpdesk for its citizens. 

To set up the WHO health alert service, one must save the number +4179 893 1892 and send a message saying “hi”. The service, which is currently available in English, will provide official and reliable information, as well as answer queries on Covid-19, according to a statement. The service will soon be launched in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish as well, the statement added.

To access information and resolve queries on the MyGov Corona Helpdesk, one can save the number +91 9013151515 and send a “hi”. The chatbot, which was developed by Reliance Industries-owned conversational artificial intelligence platform Jio Haptik, updates information sourced from the health ministry in real time, the company said. It gives users an overview of the number of affected cases in their area, government advisories, precautionary measures they must take and busts myths about the disease as well.

Additionally, the messaging platform announced a $1 million grant to Poynter Institute’s forum of fact checkers, the International Fact-Checking Network, to curb fake news on WhatsApp and SMS, the statement added. 

Read: MeitY notifies social media platforms to curb fake news related to Covid-19

“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,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general, WHO, said.

“In times of global crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, it is imperative that we rely only on factually correct and verified information. When facts are incorrect, it leads to panic -- this becomes a vicious cycle. I appeal to people, transcending all borders, to use precautions that are being given out through official sources and not get misled by myths that are circulated by mischievous elements,” Harsh Vardhan, union minister for health and family welfare, science and technology, and earth sciences, said.

Read: Hackers ride the Covid-19 wave as more people spend time online: Check Point

Earlier this week, WhatsApp partnered with the WHO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to launch the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub to provide simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, non-profits, local governments and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate. It will also provide general tips and resources for users around the world to reduce the spread of rumors.