The Nigerian government has launched an instant messaging platform to combat the spread of fake news and misinformation about COVID-19 amid an imminent second wave of the pandemic in Nigeria.
With support from the United Nations’ children agency, UNICEF, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Wednesday said it has launched an SMS-based interactive ’chatbot’ to provide Nigerians with timely and accurate information on COVID-19.
Health experts and officials have reckoned that misinformation is a key factor contributing to why citizens undermine the potency of the coronavirus and are not fully embracing safety protocols.
The government has made concerted efforts, including teaming up with technology giants such as Facebook and WhatsApp, to fight misinformation about coronavirus.
The NCDC in a statement Wednesday said the new COVID-19 chatbot will serve as a “crucial additional medium to access validated, vetted, and accurate information about COVID-19 and the government’s efforts to control the pandemic.”
The initiative was made possible through the U-report platform, an innovative mobile social monitoring platform for community participation to address issues that matter to young people.
It is designed to give young people a chance to voice their opinions on issues in their communities, encourage citizen-led development, and create a positive change.
The chatbot can be accessed for free across all networks via SMS by sending the word “coronavirus” to the shortcode 24453.
Also, Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp users can send the word “Coronavirus” to +234 908 740 1607 and via the U-Report platform on Facebook, via @ureportnigeria.
“At NCDC, we always leverage opportunities to use technological solutions to enhance the delivery of our mandate. Technology has been critical for strengthening our public health response to COVID-19. This interactive chatbot is a welcome initiative that will be integrated into existing technology deployed for communication at the NCDC. We are grateful to UNICEF and partners for supporting our efforts to provide Nigerians with prompt and reliable information on the COVID-19 pandemic,” NCDC director, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said.
Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Nigeria Representative, said “COVID-19 is not to be taken lightly and needs to be discussed factually and accurately. ”
“We need to guard against misinformation to help save lives. A new chatbot is a useful tool that provides vetted and accurate information and response to the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.