Over 1.5 million South Africans engage with COVID-19 WhatsApp Helpline

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Image sourced from Twitter

Just a couple of days ago, South Africa’s National Department of Health (NDoH) launched COVID-19 Connect – a WhatsApp-based helpline to deliver accurate, up-to-date information to South African citizens during the current COVID-19 global pandemic.

Since then, the service has already engaged with over 1.5 million users and has served over fifteen 15 million messages.

COVID-19 Connect was created in the space of just one week by Praekelt.Org, using Turn.io technology that delivers automated informational responses providing answers to the most frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and the coronavirus.

COVID-19 Connect, endorsed by the National Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), is said to already be playing an important role in supporting the Department of Health’s national response.


The service is enabling the South African government to have direct communication with the public, empowering individuals with the right information and alleviating pressure on the national call centre.

Using the World Health Organization’s (WHO) up-to-the-minute information, coupled with localised news updates and information on prevention, symptoms, treatment, risks, travelling and testing, COVID-19 Connect is helping mitigate against the misinformation that can distract from critical health prevention support across all levels of society.

“The NDoH has previously pioneered the use of WhatsApp to take its MomConnect maternal health programme to scale. Our ongoing relationship with the NDoH and our experience on this, and other large scale health initiatives worldwide, has enabled us to rapidly implement COVID-19 Connect,” says Debbie Rogers, MD of Praekelt.org

COVID-19 Connect uses Turn.io’s machine learning technology to enable automatic prioritisation enabling conversations at scale. In addition, COVID-19 Connect also provides real-time data insights to support effective decision-making by the South African government around COVID-19.

Turn’s multi-language capability means that the COVID-19 Connect Helpline will soon be available in additional languages, and is being made available to other countries and organisations to support their efforts in urgently tackling the pandemic.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa asked that we act together, act now and act decisively – the NDoH, the teams from Whatsapp and the WHO and our own teams at Praekelt.org and Turn.io have done exactly this over the last few days while developing COVID-19 Connect,” says Gustav Praekelt, founder of Praekelt.org and co-founder of Turn.io.

South Africans can join the conversation by texting ‘Hi’ to +27 600 123 456 on Whatsapp.

Edited by Jenna Delport
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