COTONOU, Benin – After the first case of COVID-19 was announced in Benin, within four days, the West African nation had set up a range of digital platforms to help combat both the spread of the disease and what the World Health Organization (WHO) has called “infodemic” of misinformation around it.
Spearheaded by Wilfried Léandre Houngbédji, a former journalist, supported by well-known Beninese social media expert, Stévy Wallace, a state-appointed team of around 15 people is using WHO guidelines to disseminate information on prevention and highlight the actions being taken by health authorities to deal with the unfolding crisis.
In addition to a centralized official government platform that is freely accessible to all mobile phone users in Benin and provides frequent updates, the digital strategy team has put out several radio inserts in around 15 local languages and a range of awareness videos and press releases across different social networks. An interactive WhatsApp messaging system has also been set up and helps the team to communicate directly with citizens both in Benin and the diaspora.
“The official information is being very well relayed on social networks,” says Wallace. “Internet users are interacting expansively with the channels through questions, comments, contributions and criticism.” On the official pandemic website is the most visited portal and has a COVID-19 ‘flash news’ function for near instantaneous response to fake news.
“The challenge is that not all sections of the population can be reached as there may not be internet access or some form of illiteracy. So there is need for each internet user to pass on the correct information in their community”. Wallace adds.
As COVID-19 cases continue to increase exponentially throughout Africa, with more than 10,000 people now infected across 52 countries, widely-accessible, responsive mobile and online communication platforms and messaging are a critical part of efforts to curb the spread of the virus.