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Coronavirus: How WhatsApp Is Helping Fight the Outbreak The messaging service has launched a health alert in collaboration with the WHO to answer questions about the virus. In India, it has launched a separate helpline in partnership with the health ministry and myGov.

By Debroop Roy

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WhatsApp

Messaging service WhatsApp has launched a health alert in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) to answer questions about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and provide latest situation reports from around the world.

The free-to-use app, owned by Facebook, has over 2 billion users globally with more than 400 million of that base coming from India.

"So many people wanted this service that even before we could announce it, people shared the link around WhatsApp and almost half a million people had already signed up," Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said in a post, announcing the WHO collaboration.

To contact the WHO Health Alert, users need to save the number +41798931892 in their respective phone contacts and then text the word "Hi' in a WhatsApp message. The company said the service responds to a series of prompts and would be updated daily with latest information.

Official information on topics such as how to protect yourself from infection, travel advice, and debunking Coronavirus myths will be provided with the health alert and while the service is initially launching only in English, the company said it would become available in all six United Nations languages – English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish – in the 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," said WHO's director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.

The coronavirus disease has claimed more than 15,300 lives globally and the number of people who have tested positive with the virus in India has crossed 415, having risen steadily over the last week.

Helpline For India

WhatsApp has also launched a helpline for India, joining hands with the Ministry of Health and governance initiative MyGov, to raise awareness and answer questions about the pandemic. Users across the country can reach out to the Ministry on +919013151515 for credible information and verify any uncertain information on precautionary measures or treatment practices.

Depending on the question, users will receive verified information in the form of a video, infographic or text.

The spread of misinformation and fake news has been a long-standing problem for the messaging service, especially in India, and there have been reports of the same happening since the pandemic began to spread in the country.

"I appeal to people, transcending all borders, to use precautions that are being given out through official sources and to not get misled by myths that are circulated by mischievous elements." said Dr. Harsh Vardhan, India's Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare, Science & Technology, Earth Sciences, in a statement.

In a separate notification, the Centre has informed that no person, institution or organization can use any print, electronic or social media to pass information on COVID-19 without ascertaining the facts and prior clearance of relevant authorities. Anyone found indulging in such activity would be punished.

Information Hub

Last week, WhatsApp also announced the global launch of the Coronavirus Information Hub in partnership with the WHO, United Nations Children's Fund, and United Nations Development Programme.

The hub provides simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, nonprofits, local governments and local businesses that rely on the messaging service to communicate.

It also said it was making a $1 million donation to the Poynter Institute's International Fact-Checking Network to support fact-checking for the #CoronaVirusFacts Alliance, which spans more than 100 local organizations in at least 45 countries.

Debroop Roy

Former Correspondent

Covering the start-up ecosystem in and around Bangalore. Formerly an energy reporter at Reuters. A film, cricket buff who also writes fiction on weekends.
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