Image credits: Ministry of Health
News Article

Are You Ready to Chat With Susana Distancia?

By Alessa Flores | Wed, 04/22/2020 - 12:44

Today, the Ministry of Health announced during the president’s morning conference that it will be possible to chat with Susana Distancia through WhatsApp messages. The Susana Distancia chatbot will offer information about the COVID-19 through a series of robotic messages. In addition, it will be available 24/7, will have coverage across the national territory and will not generate data consumption. Deputy Minister of Health Hugo López-Gatell indicated through his official Twitter account that to get in touch with Susana Distancia you only have to send a WhatsApp message with the word "hello" to 55 8633 8589. 

Chatbots have become a technological tool of growing interest as they serve as agents who use natural language to engage in "intelligent" conversations through data interfaces and service providers, according to an academic journal published at the International Conference on Internet Services. But, why do people use chatbots? According to the same journal, chatbots like Susana Distancia are frequently used with the motivation of being more productive and helping people to obtain information efficiently and on time. Two elements that are undoubtedly key when it comes to assisting people in this pandemic.

Chatbot development started in the 1960s as a way to see if artificial intelligence could trick humans into believing they were human. This experiment was known as the Turing Test. In other words, chatbots started as a test to measure the capacity of a machine to mimic human behavior in ways that are similar or indistinguishable from humans, according to an article published in the Journal for Language Technology and Computational Linguistics (JLCL).

The Mexican government is not the only one using chatbots to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) itself opened a number on WhatsApp to resolve doubts about the pandemic, with information available on seven languages ranging from the latest numbers on COVID-19, advice to protect yourself, information to debunk myths, travel advice, news and press and donations. Other health entities such as the Catholic Hospital in Seattle have put a chatbot at the service of users, according to an article prepared by Expansión News.

The Susana Distancia chatbot is designed to guide people to carry a COVID-19 risk test, to know more about the virus and how it is transmitted, symptoms, recommendations in the event that you or a family member have symptoms, as well as, up-to-date information related to COVID-19. In addition, Susana DIstancia has an extension of options where the user can consult information on prevention issues, myths and reality, control of the epidemic, trips abroad, day-to-day during the quarantine and information on treatment.

For example, if the user clicks on the Myths and Reality option, Susana Distancia throws five questions that have been commonly consulted during the pandemic and offers an answer. One of the available questions is: “Can you get COVID-19 when you receive a package from China?” The answer users get reads: “No, people who receive packages or letters from China are not at risk of getting COVID-19, coronaviruses do not survive long on objects such as letters or packages.”

Other functions of the chatbot are designed to provide information on how people should act in their day-to-day. Tips range from how to disinfect the house to what to do during the program implemented by the authorities known as National Social-distancing Program. For example, if the user asks: “is it true that I should bathe and clean my shoes after arriving home?” Susana Distancia’s answer is: "No, what you have to do is stay at home most of the time. If you have to go out, when you get home you should wash your hands with soap and water."

If you have a question about how the COVID-19 pandemic is evolving worldwide, you can reach out to WHO using the number +41 79 893 18 92. If you have questions about COVID-19 in Mexico, you can talk to Susana Distancia.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
WHO, Ministry of Health, Hugo López-Gatell, Susana Distancia Twitter Account, International Conference on Internet Services
Photo by:   Ministry of Health
Alessa Flores Alessa Flores Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst