BBC is launching a new health information service over WhatsApp in West Africa
BBC is launching a new health information service over WhatsApp in West AfricaAFP

The BBC has launched an Ebola public health information service on WhatsApp, the most popular chat app in Africa, which is specifically targeted at users in West Africa.

The Ebola service will provide images, SMS text message alerts and audio information to help users in the region get the most up-to-date public health information about the virus, in the hopes of combatting its spread across the region.

The service will be in both English and French, and users will receive three items of content a day.

To subscribe for the Ebola WhatsApp information service, users need to send the word "JOIN" via WhatsApp to the number +44 7702 348 651, while sending the word "STOP" unsubscribes the user from the service.

The BBC says that its response to the Ebola virus is now the BBC World Service's biggest health information drive since the HIV/Aids epidemic in the 1980s-1990s.

Apart from WhatsApp, users around the world can also tune in to Ebola bulletins on the radio, online and TV in several languages.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that a total of 4,493 people have now died from the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which is considered to be the worst outbreak of the disease on record.

In West Africa, Nigeria and Senegal appear to have prevented further spreading of Ebola, however the situation in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia is deteriorating.

"In Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, new cases continue to explode in areas that looked like they were coming under control," WHO said in its 14 October Ebola situation assessment.

"An unusual characteristic of this epidemic is a persistent cyclical pattern of gradual dips in the number of new cases, followed by sudden flare-ups.

"WHO epidemiologists see no signs that the outbreaks in any of these 3 countries are coming under control."

In total, there have been 8,997 suspected, probable and confirmed cases of the disease reported in seven countries, according to latest statistics as of 12 October.

According to Reuters, the US is sending 4,000 troops to West Africa, the majority to Liberia, where they will assist in building 17 Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) across the country in order to contain the haemorrhagic fever.