Increasing access to sexual and reproductive health and rights via new innovations and technologies in Africa

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Helpdesk Query:

What is the evidence in Africa for increasing access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights via new innovations and technologies, mobiles, internet and how does that translate into actual increases in additional/new users?

Summary:

New innovations and technology, including mobiles and internet, have enormous potential for increasing access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). They can be particularly helpful in reaching hard to access groups, including remote or stigmatised populations, due to the rapid spread of telecommunications infrastructure, mobile phones and broadband usage in low and middle income countries. This helpdesk report explores the evidence around innovations and technologies that increase access through broadening the availability and reach of information and services. Some of the papers on innovations and technologies identified in this helpdesk report do not quantify the increases in users but have been included regardless if they describe an interesting approach. This helpdesk report provides a snapshot of some of the most relevant evidence currently available.

The evidence suggests that mobile phones are extremely useful for increasing access to SRHR, both through educating the public directly or providing information to health professionals. Information can be provided directly or referrals made to clinics or other centres for accessing SRHR. Key challenges include a low proportion of the population owning mobile phones in some areas or lack of funds to charge them, and certain groups, including women, those over 45 and socio-economically disadvantaged groups being less likely to have access to a phone. Web-based approaches are also very useful in increasing access to SRHR. This includes online health education programmes, websites and social media platforms. These services are very popular for accessing information and are often described by users as non-judgmental and authoritative. Many clients are then referred on to other services. Challenges include lack of access to computers and embarrassment at visiting sites referring to SRHR in public. Mixed approaches were also common among programmes to increase access to SRHR and were found to be largely very successful in achieving their goals.

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