BBC World Service Launches Ebola Chat App

Instant messenger app Whatsapp aimed at West Africa
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LONDON—The BBC World Service is launching a new “lifeline” Ebola service for people in West Africa on instant messenger app Whatsapp.

The new service is in both English and French and will comprise public health information on Ebola from the BBC, using audio, text message posts and images. It will also include breaking news alerts related to Ebola. The service is available on +44 7702 348651. Whatsapp is the most popular chat app in Africa.

This means Ebola is now the BBC World Service’s biggest health focus since its reporting on HIV/Aids in the 1980s and 1990s.

In addition to this service, the BBC’s Ebola efforts now include:

— News About Ebola, a news and information program broadcast twice every weekday from Sept. 22. The program is focused on the affected region of West Africa, where half of World Service English’s 13.1m African listeners are based. Shortwave transmissions to the affected areas have been increased

— Ebola Infos, a twice-daily Ebola bulletin in French on BBC Afrique

— Increased partnerships with other broadcasters: the Ebola programs are being broadcast by more than 50 radio stations in West Africa and on the BBC’s own FM transmitters in key cities

— Special new interactive editions of Focus On Africa on World Service English on Mondays and Thursdays for audiences to share experiences, concerns and questions on Ebola

— New twice-weekly interactive programming on BBC Afrique, Parlons d’Ebola

— A new daily 10-minute Ebola bulletin on BBC World News TV

— Weekly Ebola bulletins, Ebola Public Health Broadcast, have been produced by BBC Africa in conjunction with the BBC’s international development charity BBC Media Action since August. They are broadcast in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria on the BBC’s English, French and Hausa services. The Swahili, Somali and Kinyarwanda/Kirundi services also carry the broadcasts

— BBC Media Action has been helping to tackle misinformation about the disease in a radio programme, Kick Ebola Nar Salone (Kick Ebola out of Sierra Leone), produced and broadcast three times a week on 35 partner stations across the country. The show gives people a chance to ask questions of experts, and voice their concerns

— BBC Media Action has partnered with the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to deliver ‘lifeline’ communication training to media, officials and humanitarian workers in countries at risk across West Africa. It will also produce media outputs – from discussion programs to mini-dramas – to tackle rumor and stigma and to help people take action to protect their health in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea

In additional to this special programming, BBC News has been reporting from affected regions across all of its domestic and international outlets from the outset of the outbreak.

Director of the World Service Group Peter Horrocks said: “This outbreak of Ebola shows no signs of abating. Myths and misinformation about Ebola are still widespread – and life-threatening. The BBC is trusted by millions of people in the affected countries, so we are stepping up our efforts to reach people with timely information, whether they’re listening to the radio, watching TV or using chat apps. We’re committed to playing our part and will continue looking at new ways to reach audiences, for example by developing programs in local vernacular languages.”

This is the first time the BBC has used a chat app specifically for health information programming, although instant messaging applications including Line, Mixit, BBM, WeChat and Whatsapp have been successfully used for breaking news alerts and while reporting the elections in India and South Africa.