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Over 1.5 million South Africans engage with the new SA National Department of Health COVID-19 Connect WhatsApp Helpline
Mar 18 · 3 min read
Over 1 million South Africans engage with the new SA National Department of Health COVID-19 Connect WhatsApp Helpline
Over 1 million South Africans engage with the new SA National Department of Health COVID-19 Connect WhatsApp Helpline

Johannesburg, 18 March 2020: Over the weekend South Africa’s National Department of Health (NDoH) announced COVID-19 Connect, a WhatsApp-based helpline to deliver accurate, up-to-date information to South African citizens during the current COVID-19 global pandemic. In just a few days, the service has engaged with over one and a half (1.5) million South Africans and has served over fifteen (15) million messages.

COVID-19 Connect was created in the space of just one week by Praekelt.Org, using technology that delivers automated informational responses providing answers to the most frequently asked questions about COVID-19 and the coronavirus.

COVID-19 Connect, endorsed by the National Department of Health and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), is already playing an important role in supporting the Department of Health’s national response. The service is enabling the South African government to have direct communication with the public, empowering individuals with the right information and alleviating pressure on the national call centre.

Using the World Health Organization’s up-to-the-minute information, coupled with localised news updates and information on prevention, symptoms, treatment, risks, travelling and testing, COVID-19 Connect is helping mitigate against the misinformation that can distract from critical health prevention support across all levels of society.

“The National Department of Health has previously pioneered the use of WhatsApp to take its MomConnect maternal health programme to scale. Our ongoing relationship with the NDoH and our experience on this, and other large scale health initiatives worldwide, has enabled us to rapidly implement COVID-19 Connect,” says Debbie Rogers, Managing Director of

COVID-19 Connect uses’s machine learning technology to enable automatic prioritisation enabling COVID-19 Connect to manage conversations at scale. In addition, COVID-19 Connect also provides real-time data insights to support effective decision-making by the South African government around COVID-19.

Turn’s multi-language capability means that the COVID-19 Connect Helpline will soon be available in additional languages, and is being made available to other countries and organisations to support their efforts in urgently tackling the pandemic.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa asked that we act together, act now and act decisively — the National Department of Health, the teams from WhatsApp and the World Health Organisation and our own teams at and have done exactly this over the last few days while developing COVID-19 Connect,” said Gustav Praekelt, Founder of and co-founder of “I’d like to thank all of the individuals and organisations involved in getting the COVID-19 Connect service up and running so quickly”.

*The COVID-19 Connect WhatsApp number is 0600 123456 — South Africans are encouraged to save the number to their contacts and then WhatsApp the word “hi” to this number to start engaging with the service to get the answers they need.
*Visit for South Africa’s official Coronavirus (Covid-19) online news and information portal in association with The Department of Health and the NHI.
*Countries or organisations wanting to implement a Whatsapp helpline in their regions should email or apply via

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