How the BBC is using WhatsApp to combat Ebola in West Africa

The BBC has launched a new public health information service via WhatsApp.

Patrick Sison/AP/File

The BBC has launched a new effort to help fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa, and it’s employing the biggest ‘chat app’ in use in Africa.

A new public health information service will use WhatsApp to target audio, text message alerts, and images to users in West Africa, who are in the heart of the worst Ebola crisis in history.

“It's a situation where information will literally save lives,” Peter Horrocks, director of BBC World Service, told Mashable.

Mashable noted the malleability of the app, which is available on smartphones but also older feature phones, as messages can be sent in a variety of ways without taking up large amounts of data.

“This has got to be information that people trust and is reliable but is also easily digestible and doesn't consume a lot of bandwidth,” Horrocks said.

Content, available in English and French, will be limited to three items a day.

Mixed media will make content more accessible to the variety of handsets and help in reaching people who may not be able to read English or French, TechCrunch reported.

“This outbreak of Ebola shows no signs of abating. Myths and misinformation about Ebola are still widespread – and life-threatening,” Horrocks said in a statement. “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.”

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Half a billion people around the world are now regular, active WhatsApp users, according to the WhatsApp blog.

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