The Smart bot was designed to help the youth tackle the complex questions that arise during adolescence stage around love and relationships.
THE Department of Health, in collaboration with Reach Digital Health and Elton John AIDS Foundation, have launched a WhatsApp platform to assist youngsters with queries around sexual reproductive health.
The Young Africa Live (YAL) Smart bot was designed to help the youth tackle the complex questions that arise during adolescence stage 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, and forms part of the department’s interactive digital health platform called B-Wise Health. The Smart bot was also designed to help and empower young people with solutions to the challenges surrounding sex and relationships in a private and safe space that puts the answers at their fingertips.
Meanwhile, the establishment of this youth-targeted initiative comes amidst the high rate of teenage pregnancies and HIV infections amongst youngsters. It also relates to the results of Youth Sex Survey conducted in 2012 which 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 results suggest that important conversations surrounding sex remain taboo in some sections of the society, making it difficult for youngsters to openly ask sex-related questions in order to make informed health choices.
In a bid to address this, the YAL platform is a solution which complements the existing B-Wise Health system which seeks to put the power back in the hands of the youth and to give them the space they need to discover the answers themselves, without fear of judgement or reprisal, the platform’s creators said.
“The platform is easy to use, accessible, talks the language of the digital generation and gives them what they need to safely thrive in life.”
They added that 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.”
In addition, 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 creators explained.
They added that it also 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 also provides a space for youngsters 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,” the creators said.
“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.”
Meanwhile, as part of the National Digital Health Strategy for South Africa, South Africa has embraced the potential of digital health technologies to improve the quality and coverage of healthcare, increase access to services and skills, and promote positive changes in health behaviours.
This also includes the creation of The Young Africa Live (YAL) Smart bot which functions 24/7/365 and delivers information to the youth in the language of their choice.
For more information about accessing and benefiting from this initiative, young people can simply WhatsApp “Hi” to +27 60 071 7844 and follow the prompts to sign up.
The Saturday Star