World Health Organization’s new COVID-19 app to deliver ‘more truths into more people’s hands’

The World Health Organization’s new COVID-19 app aims to deliver ‘more truths into more people’s hands’, says Andy Pattison, Team Lead for Digital Channels at World Health Organization.

“With this app, we are trying to get more truths into more people’s hands and therefore also combat misinformation,” Mr. Pattison told Today News Africa‘s Senior International Correspondent Kristi Pelzel during an interview last week.

Pattison quoted a worrisome recent study from MIT that concluded that falsehoods were being shared about 70 times more than accurate information.

“So, a false story will reach 1,500 people six time quicker than a true story does. False stories, unfortunately, out-perform the truth in every single subject, including business terrorism, technology, entertainment, and sadly, in our case, also health and science,” he said.

“It simply means that we cannot compete with hopes and rumor. So, what we try to do with projects like this is to give people the sense of security that the information they are getting is correct, and coming from a reliable source. We’re working with the ministries of health in countries and the world health organization, with thousands of scientists to bring people the best possible information,” added Pattison.

The WHO’s app, released late last year in conjunction with the Nigerian government and the Nigerian Center for Disease Control, shares COVID-19 health information content.

It was the perfect place to launch the app, acknowledges Bruno Bowden, Volunteer Lead at the World Health Organization.

“WHO has a great partnership with the Nigerian CDC and Dr.Chikwe Ihekweazu. There is a very large English speaking population in Nigeria and it’s also a large country with 206 million people,” Mr. Bowden explained, adding, “One of the things that’s nice about a digital app is that it’s something you can deploy immediately.”

He said the app does not trace or track individuals, but focuses on information dissemination, although it could have the capabilities to trace, track, and support vaccine distribution in the next few months when Nigeria is expected to begin vaccinating its people.

It also does not collect or store personal health information about individuals, as all of the medical information is vetted by the World Health Organization.

According to Bowden, the development of the app was a large volunteer effort with contributions from over 150 people all over the world.

The app was designed as an open source projects on GitHub, meaning everyone can to join the effort to make the world a healthier and more accurately informed place.

Looking ahead, there will be an effort to add multiple languages. “We’re working with the tech industry, the tech giants of the world to help us translate all of the content into dozens and dozens of languages. We’re working with Facebook, Google, and even companies like Tinder have joined forces with us, pro-bono translating our content. Of course, WHO then has to check it, but that means we can reach people in their own language and that’s really important to us,” says Andy Pattison.

Simon Ateba contributed to this report.

Kristi Pelzel is a Senior White House correspondent for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Kristi also covers the US Department of State and the United Nations. She holds a master's degree from Georgetown University.

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