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The global pandemic, Coronavirus has created a menace for governments, public health officials and ordinary citizens around the world when it comes to misinformation and disinformation around this respiratory disease.

Coronavirus’s information has been shrouded in myths and misconceptions since it started ravaging the world, early this year. In Africa, Coronavirus has claimed the lives of over 14 000 people while infecting more than 830 000 people, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

WHO projects that Coronavirus could directly lead to 190 000 deaths across the continent. Having Coronavirus information in local languages and from a trusted source is life-saving.

This is why mothers2mothers (m2m), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) based in Africa has launched a WhatsApp bot available in 31 languages aimed at equipping women in nine countries on the continent including Malawi, Lesotho and Mozambique among others with information vital in the fight against Coronavirus.

The m2m in partnership with Praekelt, an Africa based nonprofit organisation and a health communications agency Thrive has translated and adapted the WHO Coronavirus education and prevention information into local languages such as Bemba, Kiswahili, Luganda, Lusoga, Ndebele and Nyanja among others.

The WhatsApp bot dubbed the Virtual Mentor Mother Platform (VMMP) uses Turn.io’s machine learning technology to deliver automated responses for free with information on Coronavirus including travel, advice, latest numbers, symptoms and to dismiss myths and misconceptions.

             

The VMMP can also link users to nearby in-person services if required, according to m2m, an NGO that unlocks the potential of women to create healthy families and eliminate paediatric AIDS.

WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in Africa, according to a 2018 report by We Are Social and Hootsuite. Kathrin Schmit, m2m’s director of programmes and technical support told Biztech Africa that they aim to reach thousands of people through their platform.

“We already reach over 1.2 million people with health services each year across nine African countries. Of course, many are not yet connected to the internet, so our goal in the first year is to reach at least half of these individuals, and also encourage them to share the VMMP with family and friends to create a ripple effect,” Schmit said.

Frank Beadle de Palomo, m2m’s president and chief executive officer said the new interactive platform will play an important role in getting life-saving information to people when they want it, in a language they understand, and from a trusted source. 

“Of course, we know technology is not a silver bullet. The VMMP is just part of m2m’s service mix, which will continue to include in-person services, especially for those most at risk, and those not yet connected to the internet.” Palomo said.

In October this year, m2m will roll out the content in wider health areas such as HIV prevention and treatment, maternal health, and early childhood development will be added to the chatbot, as well as content in at least four additional languages.

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