To address the spread of the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries, BMZ together with partners from the EU Commission, other EU member states, tech-companies, and civil society, organized a hackathon dubbed the #SmartDevelopmentHack. Read here how one of the winning teams developed an AI Chatbot to fight the covid-19 pandemic in Rwanda.

Africa continues to face a growing burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases due to inadequate and deficient health infrastructure, regional disparities of medical and paramedical resources, and a lack of adequate health related information communicated to local populations. Unfortunately, these conditions have been further accentuated by the current covid-19 pandemic. The continent has been especially hit by the current health crisis, in part due to inadequate prevention mechanisms. Lack of actionable, easy-to understand and up-to-date pandemic-related information has resulted in the continued spread of the virus in both rural and urban communities. Rising covid-19 cases in the past two months is a clear example that Africa might experience new waves especially considering that only 2% of Africans are fully vaccinated as of to date.

Supporting the fight against Covid-19 through digital solutions

To address the spread of the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries, BMZ together with partners from the EU Commission, other EU member states, tech-companies, and civil society, organized a hackathon dubbed the #SmartDevelopmentHack. From this hackathon various digital solutions emerged. One example is the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC)-MBAZA chatbot project. The project which is based on Natural Language Processing (NLP), a subfield of machine learning, allows information access through text or voice-based interaction, and exhibited potential for impactful covid-19 related information diffusion. Chatbot technology or NLP has proven its worth during the corona virus crisis, based on its potential to disseminate critical and curated information to vast populations as attested by its use by the WHO and the CDC.

Launch of the RBC Mbaza Chatbot

Mbaza Chatbot Infographic

The RBC-Mbaza Chatbot, is an application which can currently be accessed via the USSD short code *114# in Rwanda. It is a menu-based solution and provides Rwandan citizens with daily statistics on the number of cases and vaccinations, covid-19 symptoms, and prevention methods, as well as guidance on how to proceed if someone has tested positive. Moreover, it informs the population on prevailing government restrictions to curb the spread of the corona virus. This information is available in the three official national languages: Kinyarwanda, English and French. As emphasized by Dr Sabin, Director General of Rwanda Biomedical Centre, “The aim is to provide accurate and timely information to the majority of Rwandans and Rwandan residents to help them take healthier decisions and curb the spread of covid-19”.

The Mbaza project is developed by a consortium of partners including GIZ, Digital Umuganda, Arxia, Mozilla and RISA, from whom it receives technical and financial support, to ensure it is a tool at par with international standards. Consequently, for the second iteration of the project, the aim is to leverage artificial intelligence, whereby users will be able to type individual questions related to covid-19 instead of choosing from a pre-defined menu. Ultimately, RBC and its partners aim to provide a voice-based chatbot which Rwandans can call and engage with to get responses to their individual questions.

Providing information in local languages is key for the fight against Covid-19

The success of the chatbot has validated the assumption that when information is provided in local languages through channels everyone can access, regardless of connectivity barriers, we can achieve information access equity and bridge the digital divide gap. In the last 25 days, over 340,000 people have used the chatbot with more than 3.2 million inquiries. On average, the chatbot is used by more than 13,000 individuals daily, and records upwards of 129,000 inquiries. Due to the success of the project, the chatbot is currently being scaled up to include new use cases starting with vaccination appointments.
In a world that is increasingly characterized by enhanced connectivity, Africa has a unique opportunity to leverage AI to achieve health related information access equity and ensure a healthy and prosperous future for its citizens. Africa cannot and should not be left behind.
Users per day for the Mbaza Chatbot

The development of the Mbaza Chatbot is only one of the activities we support at the DigiCenter. If you would like to get to know more about our work, have a look at our solutions and events, and follow us on social media.

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