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Mbaza - The chatbot giving access to COVID-19 information throughout Rwanda

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Contributors participating in a voice data validation, April 2019 - Westerwelle Startup Haus, Kigali Rwanda © Digital Umuganda

With only 2% of Africans fully vaccinated as of December 2021, the surge of COVID-19 represents a severe threat for African countries and their overburdened healthcare systems. While structural challenges such as poor healthcare infrastructure and regional disparities are difficult to resolve at short notice, providing reliable and up-to-date information on the virus, especially for marginalised communities in rural areas, will be key for the continent to manage the health crisis.

The official Rwandan COVID-19 chatbot illustrates the potential and impact of such information initiatives: Since mid-July, over half a million people have used the ‘RBC-Mbaza’ chatbot to access information on incidence rates, recommended behaviour in case of infection, and current restrictions and regulations.

Accessible via simple mobile phone messages, Rwandans require no internet connection to access information available in the local language Kinyarwanda, as well as English and French. That way, the national Rwandan health authority, the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), can provide a source of constantly updated information, reaching more than 15,000 people every day, even in remote regions.

The RBC-Mbaza chatbot plays a key role in Rwanda’s effort to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Up until now 580 000 Rwandans have used it, with an average of 15,000 daily users. Information includes 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.

In its next version, the chatbot will become more interactive, so that users can converse naturally via voice or text and will include new features such booking vaccination appointments.

The project emerged from the #SmartDevelpmentHack, a hackathon organised by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development – BMZ, and the European Commission.

Developed by the Rwandan startup Digital Umuganda, the solution’s development is being supported through GIZ’s Digital Transformation Center in Rwanda.

Besides strengthening the local tech-ecosystem, the project also aims to make the underlying technology and data openly available by adopting an open-source approach. That way, other Rwandan startups can develop chatbot solutions based on RBC-Mbaza to tackle future challenges.

Commoneers (Community mobilizers) participating in contributed sentence validation for Kinyarwanda text corpus, December 2019 - African Leadership University, Kigali- Rwanda
Commoneers (Community mobilizers) participating in contributed sentence validation for Kinyarwanda text corpus, December 2019 - African Leadership University, Kigali- Rwanda © Digital Umuganda

Implementing organisations

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH