Tackling COVID-19 by phone: using mobile phones to respond to the pandemic
Misinformation about COVID-19 is a global problem. Now a project is using basic mobile phones to provide reliable information.
Many countries are currently seeing a renewed increase in COVID-19 infections, and as case numbers rise, so too does inaccurate information about the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has coined the phrase ‘infodemic’ to describe this parallel epidemic of inaccurate medical information and misleading guidance on tackling the virus. And groups living in remote rural areas of Africa, for example, often have no direct access to the internet or other media for reliable information.
The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has launched the ‘CallvsCorona’ Project to tackle this. The idea dates back to April 2020, when it was one of the outcomes of a ‘hackathon’ to find ways of tackling the pandemic. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the project operates a 24-hour interactive phone service in five countries to combat misinformation about COVID-19. With information about the virus available round the clock, callers can find out about specific topics at the touch of a button on their phone. The project has also produced 95 informative radio playlets, using everyday stories to provide valuable information on how to behave. This provides a reliable source of information, in particular for people who cannot read and write.
The wide distribution of basic mobile phones and access to radio stations across Africa means that even those living in the remotest regions have access to the information they need through ‘CallvsCorona’. More than 250,000 people have already accessed information directly via their mobile phones.
The phone service is provided by a social enterprise, Viamo, and after launching in Madagascar, it is now also available in Haiti, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. The project works closely with local GIZ programmes to reach as many people as possible. The project, which is co-financed by the European Commission, will be rolled out even more widely from October. Plans also include a focus on new aspects of COVID-19, such as information about vaccinations and health care in the pandemic. ‘CallvsCorona’ will additionally be rolled out in Nigeria and Senegal, enabling it to reach up to 400,000 more people.