South Africa’s National Department of Health (NDoH) has launched a COVID-19 digital self-assessment tool called HealthCheck.
The tool will allow for early detection, mapping and management of COVID-19 cases using USSD and the official COVID-19 WhatsApp Service (COVID-19 CONNECT).
The tool comes at a crucial moment in the South African government’s COVID-19 response – when certain aspects of the country’s lockdown are being relaxed and more responsibility is being placed on individuals to ensure their own health when engaging in outdoor activity and other areas of public life.
Members of the public will be able to use HealthCheck to self-assess their COVID-19 risk by completing a few simple questions. Based on their answers and their symptoms or exposure history, they will be classified as Low, Moderate or High risk and suggested actions or guidelines will be recommended based on this classification. Actions could include remote medical advice or a suggestion to visit a nearby healthcare facility.
Importantly, all data from HealthCheck will remain private and secure and will only be used by the NDoH and NICD to map possible infections or future outbreaks and input into epidemiological models to inform decision making on the national response to COVID-19.
HealthCheck is available on USSD for those without access to airtime or internet, with network operators MTN, Telkom and Vodacom having made access to the USSD line free.
The USSD version is available by dialing *134*832# where people are prompted to follow the menu instructions and answer a series of short questions.
Questions that are asked on the USSD line include the location (province and town), age category, symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat), exposure to infected persons and acceptance of terms and conditions and confirmation that the NDoH can contact them
The risk-assessment screening tool has also been added to the list of menu items on the NDoH’s COVID-19 Connect WhatsApp Helpline. The helpline, which has had over 6.2 million users since its launch on 18 March, is activated by messaging ‘hi’ to 0600123456.
The availability of HealthCheck on both platforms means that NICD and NDoH guidelines on self-isolation, testing or whether users should seek medical care will reach many more people during the current COVID-19 pandemic. It will also play an important role in taking the pressure off the country’s healthcare facilities whilst they are dealing with critical care of COVID-19 patients.
South Africans are encouraged to HealthCheck on a weekly basis and will be prompted by SMS reminders sent out by local network operators.
The HealthCheck digital risk-assessment and mapping tool will be available in all 11 official languages starting with English, isiZulu, isiXhosa, seSotho and Afrikaans.
The digital risk-assessment tool has been launched by the National Department of Health. Technical assistance is provided by Praekelt.org, using Turn.io technology, and with the support of clinical partner Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI). Development funding is from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
To use the tool, dial *134*832# on the COVID-19 Connect Whatsapp Helpline, which by messaging ‘check’ to 0600123456.