Ebola information services added to Facebook’s Internet.org app for Zambia

Ebola in Sierra Leone, West Africa, June 20, 2014, by Tommy Trenchard, Demotix.
Ebola in Sierra Leone, West Africa, June 20, 2014, by Tommy Trenchard, Demotix.

As the Ebola virus continues to ravage West Africa with no signs of abating, Facebook has upgraded its Internet.org app by adding additional services for its Zambian users in a bid to stop the spread of the disease.

The new services include frequently asked questions about Ebola virus, including how it can be contracted and prevented.

The Internet.org app also provides free access to Zambia’s U-Report, a free SMS texting service aimed at helping young people communicate and get information about health issues, and Fact of Life, a publication with lifesaving information for children. The publication educates mothers how to respond to emergencies when there is an epidemic or an outbreak of as disease.

The new Internet.org app also has content advising health workers on how they should respond to the Ebola virus.

In addition, U.N. agency UNICEF will be adding Ebola information it has gathered to the app, and will work withInternet.org to update the content as the app is rolled out to other African countries.

The new services are in addition to AccuWeather, eZelibrary, Google Search, Go Zambia jobs and Kokoliko that subscribers are able to access throughInternet.org in Zambia.

Though the Ebola virus has mainly hit West Africa, Zambia, in Southern African, has been on alert because there have been Ebola cases in several neighboring countries.

Facebook and other tech companies launched Internet.org last year in an effort to make the Internet accessible to people in emerging markets who are not yet connected. Facebook has been working with local service providers to roll out Internet.org apps free, with options to upgrade to paid services.

The Facebook Internet.org app was launched for Zambia in July. Airtel subscribers in Zambia can access Internet.org services for free within the Facebook for Android app.

UNICEF Zambia said it will ensure that there is correct and accessible information on Ebola so that subscribers will understand the dangers of Ebola and what steps they need to take to prevent the disease.

The content of the Internet.org Ebola app was crafted after public health officials gathered key questions being asked by people in Zambia concerning the Ebola virus.

The Ebola virus shows no signs of abating and has so far killed more 4,000 people, mainly in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 10,000 people are believed to be infected.

After being infected with the virus, people have died in Guinea, Sierra Leon, Liberia and Nigeria. The West African country of Mali has just announced the outbreak of the disease. Facebook and UNICEF are hoping that by providing access to information on Ebola via social media, people can take preventative measures, helping to stop the spread of the disease to other countries.

The Internet.org app Ebola information app comes less than a week after the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) launched the Ebola information service on multimedia instant communication service WhatsApp. The service is intended to provide a continual flow of public health information on Ebola.

“Everyone deserves access to basic services like critical health information,” said Andrew Bocking, Facebook’s Internet.org product manager.

The new Ebola information services on social media will help sensitize people on the need to be alert to signs of the virus and to immediately seek medical attention if they believe they have been infected with the virus, said Zambian Health Minister Joseph Kasonde.

“It makes me happy to know that the message on Ebola is being put across for free through Facebook. Therefore I urge people to utilize the service fully,” Kasonde told the IDG News Service.

Initial response to the Ebola content on Facebook’s Internet.org app has been positive.

“The message on the Internet.org has helped me to get answers to most of the questions I had about Ebola virus and how it can be prevented,” said Wilfred Mwale, a user of the app.