Using Elixir and WhatsApp to launch WHO’s global COVID-19 response

Simon de Haan


The inside story of how the World Health Organisation’s WhatsApp!

COVID-19 hotline service was launched in 5 days time using Elixir. has a long history of using chat to improve lives. We have our roots in the SMS and USSD mobile messaging space and since 2017 have been at the forefront of scaling these services using WhatsApp in emerging markets.

At the beginning of March 2020 we launched the world’s first WhatsApp based COVID-19 response for the South African Ministry of Health. The service was designed and launched within a week. It scaled, prior to any kind of public launch, to 450K unique users on the first day and has since grown to serve to over 7.5 million people in South Africa and is core to the national government’s ongoing COVID-19 related communication and support strategies.

While South Africa was still launching, we were also preparing for the launch of the World Health Organisation’s global WhatsApp service in partnership with, WhatsApp, Amazon Web Services, and the Be Healthy Be Mobile team at the World Health Organisation.
Within the space of 5 days, the WHO service was designed, deployed, stress tested, and launched.

Within the first 48 hours the service went to serve over 10 million people with accurate information on the COVID-19 pandemic. Instantly becoming the biggest deployment of the WhatsApp Business API at launch.

We’d like to tell the story of the people, the code, the tools, and the processes that made this a once in a life time public health opportunity in a global time of crisis. We’ll cover the lessons learned, the challenges, the successes, and the failures.