Health dept embraces WhatsApp for sex education

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 10 Aug 2023
The Department of Health reaches out to the youth via WhatsApp.
The Department of Health reaches out to the youth via WhatsApp.

The Department of Health (DOH) has taken advantage of South Africa’s strong WhatsApp user base, rolling out its digital health solution via the popular messaging app.

According to Statista, WhatsApp outpaces other communication apps, such as Signal and Telegram, reaching more than 23 million users in South Africa.

Resultantly, the department has unveiled Young Africa Live (YAL), a WhatsApp-based chatbot.

The DOH partnered with the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Reach Digital Health, formerly, on the initiative.

According to the DOH, the platform aims to help young people tackle the complex questions that arise during adolescence, around love and relationships, sexuality, mental health, HIV and STIs, contraceptives and pregnancy, etc.”

The establishment of this youth-targeted initiative was informed by the high rate of teenage pregnancy, HIV infections among young people and the results of a youth sex survey.

“The survey found that at least 60% of the randomly surveyed 17 000 South African adolescents 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 young people to openly ask sex-related questions in order to make informed health choices.”

The health department notes the South African-based WhatsApp chatbot is the first to be launched under the YAL umbrella, and complements its existing digital health platform, B-Wise Health.

The platform uses artificial intelligence 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 the young 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 DOH notes the platform has24/7 availability, delivering information to the youth in their language and when they want it.

To sign up, young people can WhatsApp “Hi” to +27 60 071 7844 and follow the prompts.