Imagine you are 16 again.
Everything you know about your own reproductive health you learned from your classmates. After all, your parents don’t talk about things like that and the professor assigned to teach health education was out sick during the week it was supposed to be on the curriculum. You have started to date someone, and things are becoming physical. Your friends tell you that you need to protect yourself by going to the doctor to get contraception. You walk past a health clinic on your way home from school, but you see your neighbor in the entryway! What if they tell your parents? You are so worried that you keep walking and don’t get what you need. You try again the next week at a different clinic, but as you sit in the waiting room, you are the only teenager and you feel like everyone is looking at you and wondering why you’re there. The wait ends up being so long that you leave before seeing the provider. You feel embarrassed, confused, and alone.
There are many possible points of entry into the healthcare system, from comprehensive education to visiting a clinic for the first time. But all too often, these options are not designed with young people in mind, essentially closing the door. After all, if young people don’t feel like something is meant for them, why would we expect them to use it?
As we advocate for meaningful investment in health systems that work for everyone, we urge innovators and local decision-makers to consider a solution that provides a point of entry and reaches young people where they are at — digital self-care platforms.
We know that digital self-care platforms will be a critical building block as we work to build a safer and healthier future – because we have seen first hand how one is working in Rwanda. In partnership with the Society for Family Planning – Rwanda and with the support of the Ministry of Health, YLabs has worked with over 1,000 young people to create CyberRwanda, a digital self-care platform that aims to improve the health and livelihoods of young people by supporting them at every step of their healthcare journey.
CyberRwanda has three main components built into the platform that are designed to increase knowledge and decrease the barriers that young people encounter when trying to access healthcare.
- Stories: Through beautifully illustrated comic strips, young people can follow along with dramatic storylines and engaging characters to learn about health topics and how to prepare for their own futures.
- Learn: If someone has a specific question about their health, relationships, or how to achieve their goals, they can explore the robust FAQ library. All of the questions come from young people themselves and the answers are written in a warm, supportive, and understandable way.
- Shop: If a young person wants to take action on what they have learned, they can order health products on the same platform that they have come to trust, and pick them up at a local pharmacy.
I like CyberRwanda because it’s fun to use and you are allowed to access it in your own time,” said one 16-year-old during a recent focus group. “I see that you can also order condoms in privacy! said another.
By working with young boys and girls at every step of the design process, we have been able to create a digital self-care platform that is trusted and cherished by the young people who use it. CyberRwanda is creating a youth-friendly entry point into existing health systems, which increases care-seeking behaviour, builds trust in local pharmacists, and empowers youth to take care of their own health.
Young people are already using technology to learn, grow, and shop. COVID-19 has highlighted the ways in which digital approaches can support education and healthcare delivery, especially when health systems are stretched thin and in-person efforts are not possible. Investing in youth-friendly digital self-care solutions like CyberRwanda can decrease barriers to entry and reduce the burden on existing healthcare systems by thinking outside of the clinic.
Achieving “health for all” must include young people, and it can begin with digital self-care solutions that welcome them into the health care system by putting information and access to products right into their hands.
This article was authored by YLabs . All images used are courtesy of YLabs.