The South African Department of Health has teamed up with Reach Digital Health and the Elton John Aids Foundation to launch a WhatsApp platform to give young people sexual reproductive health information.
The Young Africa Live (YAL) Smart bot is designed to tackle the complex questions that arise during adolescence around love and relationships, sexuality, mental health, HIV and STIs, contraceptives and pregnancy.
The South African-based WhatsApp platform is the first to be launched under the YAL umbrella. It forms part of the Department of Health’s interactive digital health platform, B-Wise Health, designed to help young people with solutions to the challenges surrounding sex and relationships in a private and safe space that puts answers at their fingertips.
The establishment of this youth-targeted initiative was informed by a high rate of teenage pregnancy and HIV infections among young people. A Youth Sex Survey conducted in 2012 found out that at least 60% of the randomly surveyed 17,000 South African adolescents responded that they are not open to discuss or ask their parents about sexual issues. The survey suggested that important conversations surrounding sex remain taboo in some sections of the society, making it difficult for young people to openly ask sex related questions in order to make informed health choices.
The YAL platform is easy to use, accessible, talks the language of the digital generation and gives them what they need to safely thrive in life.
The Department said in a statement: “On the YAL platform, no question is too embarrassing and no worry too strange. Young people can ask exactly what’s on their mind and receive a reassuring, informative and accurate response. Users can chat in private via WhatsApp, and if there is a topic they want to discuss with their peers, they can jump across to the B-Wise Facebook or Instagram pages to see what others have to say.
“This allows the platform to establish common topics across key geographies and age groups and adapt the content on both public Facebook pages and on the private WhatsApp platform.”
The platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing to understand free-form questions and replies automatically with the most relevant answers. This functionality is designed to learn and improve the more it’s used and will rapidly evolve to interpret the many ways in which young people ask for information. The insights, support, and information will be provided by trained experts at B-Wise who are accessible through the platform or on Facebook and Instagram.
The WhatsApp platform provides a space for young people to explore different features, search for services nearby, ask questions, or request a call from a qualified counsellor. It also connects them to information that empowers them at a time when they are dealing with overwhelming physical and emotional change.
This is to ensure that each young person’s journey towards better sexual, reproductive, and mental health is tailored to their specific needs, providing a safe space for young people to explore sensitive topics in a privacy-protected and judgement-free environment.
The platform functions 24/7/365 and delivers information to the youth in their language, when they want it. For more information about accessing and benefiting from this initiative, WhatsApp “Hi” to +27 60 071 7844 and follow the prompts to sign up.