The App Empowering Young Women in Uganda

In Uganda, young women and girls face many sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) challenges. For example, a high unmet need for contraception leads to dire consequences like unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Challenges that limit provision of SRHR services to adolescents and young women include lack of privacy and confidentiality, knowledge gaps, cultural and social stigma, biased service providers, and inconvenience in accessing SRHR services despite their availability. Although there have been improvements in creating a youth-attractive environment for SRHR services and access to tools, more work is needed.

We are constantly reminded of the need to provide avenues where young people – including women and girls – can access sexual and reproductive health and rights services that are equitable, appropriate and effective.

At Reach A Hand Uganda, we help to address this need through our youth empowerment centres, and now, we have introduced the SAUTIplus app.

The SAUTIplus app is an innovative part of the SAUTIplus ecosystem,  helping to fill existing gaps in information. Uganda is experiencing a smartphone boom, with over half the population now owning one, and this number is increasing day by day.

Internet penetration in Uganda is at 41.6% – with 19 million Ugandans connected to the internet. In 2017, the Uganda Communications Commission recorded that the total number of mobile phone subscriptions was 23,529,979, up from 21,039,690 the previous quarter.

The SAUTIplus app was revamped two months ago to further engage Uganda’s high youth population and, at the time of writing, has 1,600 downloads on Google Play Store. The iOS version is in its final stages of going live.

On the app, information is available day or night. With a few taps of their phone, young women and girls can quickly find answers to their burning questions about sexual and reproductive health.

It’s the young people at Reach a Hand Uganda producing the content for the app and answering the questions – with support from the Programs and Communications departments. We understand the needs of the young women and girls and can craft our responses to reach the users in a relatable manner.

Users are able to see answers to questions other young people have asked and read tailor-made stories addressing issues faced by girls. Questions can be submitted on the website (hopefully soon to be added to the app) and the questions and answers can be viewed on either the app or website. The questions can be anonymous to maintain a safe and confidential space.

The app provides accurate information on SRHR, rather than simply promoting abstinence, which has proven an ineffective method of protecting young girls in Uganda.

The section named ‘Senga’ is a reference to a trusted relationship between a woman and her father’s sister (auntie). This relationship is commonly one where information regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights is passed on, but there can be a gap in appropriate or accurate information. This is where the SAUTIplus app comes in.

‘Senga’ provides an opportunity to view answers to questions you may have had yourself, smashing the common myths and misconceptions surrounding SRHR in Uganda. “My boyfriend says we don’t need contraception because he will pull out at the last minute. Is this a good idea?” is an example of one of the questions asked by a young girl on Senga.

The SAUTIplus app is providing a platform for women and girls to take charge of their sexual health. The knowledge the app provides is giving power to young women.

With power comes increased agency and the ability to negotiate within relationships – for example, with regards to contraceptive use to prevent pregnancy. No topic is taboo on the app. This includes menstruation and menstrual hygiene, a key SRHR challenge Reach a Hand have identified among young women in the country.

The for-the-youth attitude of the SAUTIplus app means it is an engaging platform for young people to access reliable information. Multimedia content, including photos, videos and blogs, provide a plethora of youth-friendly, easily digestible resources on SRHR.

The app is in continuous development, striving to meet the changing needs of young women in Uganda. It aims to create a positive relationship between young people and SRHR information, showing that information is a tool of power and not something to be dismissed. 

Could an App Help Diagnose & Treat Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is an often painful chronic gynaecological disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of a woman’s uterus grows outside of the uterus. The patient has to live with certain symptoms, like painful periods and ovulation, pain during or after sexual intercourse, heavy bleeding, chronic pelvic pain, fatigue, and infertility over time.

These symptoms can impact on general physical, mental, and social wellbeing. If left untreated, endometriosis can lead to further health complications, painful intercourse and infertility. According to the World Endometriosis Society and the World Endometriosis Research Foundation:

Endometriosis affects an estimated 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years,  which is approximately 176 million women in the world.”

Despite this, there has been little commitment to investing in basic research and there is currently no known cure for endometriosis.

Not only is there no known cure, diagnosis isn’t simple. This is because endometriosis symptoms are often dismissed as ‘just bad periods’. Symptoms can also be similar to those of other diseases.

At Sweden National Finals Creative Business Cup on May 8 2019, Sweden’s top 8 startups within the creative industries pitched their ideas to a ‘jury’ of investors. One of these ideas might just be able to validate under-recognised illnesses such as Endometriosis.

Endometrix

Endometrix is an app that aims to make endometriosis easier to understand. It can provide self-care advice on how to treat symptoms through adequate, accessible and individualised healthcare through the use of technology.

Behind Endometrix is a cool team from Stockholm with backgrounds in bio-entrepreneurship, media & communication and healthcare. Witnessing the inadequate gynaecological care and a lack of everything from validation to awareness, choices and treatment, they created an innovative tailor-made solution for a slow-moving, conservative industry.

Meet the Endometrix team.

Do not undermine the power of women turning to one another to share their knowledge and emotions with each other. Endometrix was born with this connective mindset. Our vision is that every woman receives adequate care by sharing their experiences and progress with one another.” – Moa Felicia Linder, Co-Founder

I was told, the only time you look at what someone else has is to see if they have enough. I looked, and found that there wasn’t enough; there has been unequal treatment, unequal pay and unequal care for women. Through Endometrix, I want to change at least one of those things.” – Sushrut Shastri, Co-Founder

I had an incredible six years helping people working as a registered nurse, but there came a point where I wanted to be able to help people on a larger scale. Ultimately, to provide people with easier access to adequate care. I hope to achieve just that through Endometrix.” – Mitchell Isakka, Co-Founder

At the core of their solution lies the personal experiences of endometriosis of different girls and women. “We sent out the survey to which a lot of people responded and that was the basis for training a machine learning algorithm,” says cofounder Sushrut Shastri. The app uses machine learning, an automated system that uses data to answer questions. By using data from over 700 individuals, Endometrix identifies patterns and teaches themodel to learn how each user manages these symptoms.


Its 80% accuracy reduces the time it takes to reach diagnosis. It has potential to expand to other gynecological conditions, such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Adenomyosis and all sorts of infections.

Machine learning in healthcare is not something new. It has been playing an integral role in for at least 5-10 years. In the case of Endometriosis, the Endometrix app gives users access to information from the experiences of others who are overcoming similar challenges. It also helps to curate a wellness plan (diet, fitness, medication and meditation) and bust myths around endometriosis. “The future of machine learning used in healthcare is to help doctors to work together with doctors”, says cofounder Sushrut Shastri.

Using the full potential of artificial intelligence, and machine learning in particular, often requires addressing certain issues. However, health is fundamentally different from other areas since it concerns the understanding of diseases and treatments.

Machine learning technology can help tremendously with under-recognised disorders like endometriosis and provide doctors with the evidence they need to help girls and women.

Men, Welcome to the World of Contraception

Recently, the world was made aware of a study that cleared a contraceptive pill as safe for men. The results of the study indicate that it is possible to decrease sperm production while preserving sexual drive and avoiding serious side effects.

For years, women have been held primarily responsible for birth control and have had to suffer the side effects of various contraceptives. But, it’s 2019 and birth control should exist for everyone! This study shows that the world of sexual and reproductive health and rights could, in the future, be very different to how it is today:

1) Both men and women will be held responsible for wanted, or unwanted pregnancy.

While some people may argue that it is unfair that women have been solely responsible for birth control for so many years, there have been some advantages. With birth control options, women are able to plan for or prevent pregnancy, while men do not have the option to do so as directly. The introduction of a male birth control would ensure both sexes to have a voice in discussions about pregnancy and children.

2) There will be a greater effect on the climate.

Women who take birth control excrete the chemicals as waste and in turn, an increasing presence of these synthetic hormones have been found in soil and water around the world. As with any drug, introducing a male contraceptive would increase the level of chemicals being released into the environment.

3) Men will experience side effects of birth control that women have been experiencing for years.

In the study conducted, men reported a few non-severe side effects as well as side effects that could be seen as deal-breakers for taking the pill. The non-severe effects included fatigue, acne and headaches, and more serious reports were made of loss of muscle mass, hair loss, decrease in libido and erectile dysfunction.

Many women will find this ironic, as female contraception methods have historically had many side effects but have never been seen as ‘unsafe’ for consumption. Side effects for women can include blood clots, weight gain, increased risk of certain cancers and mental illness.

We are still a long way away from the introduction of a male contraception – but it is on the horizon!

I believe that allowing both men and women to make active choices to either prevent or achieve pregnancy will give many people more control over their lives, sexual health and safety.

In Conversation with Kizanne James

Let us introduce you to Kizanne James. Kizanne is a physician from Trinidad & Tobago working on reproductive health and rights.

In this conversation with Girls’ Globe, Kizanne speaks about the challenges she has faced as a woman – and especially as a black woman – working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Caribbean.

“We were taught that if you had sex or you had a boy touch you, it’s like a tomato – the more that a boy touches you the less valuable you would be. And that’s not the same narrative for boys.”

Kizanne explains that it’s being grounded in her values that helps her to handle difficult circumstances. In the face of negativity or even hateful abuse from those who disagree with her, knowing her work and advocacy empowers women and girls to make decisions about their own lives keeps her motivated.

“Regardless of what I may be feeling, or the negative voices or concerns people may have…I feel like I’m on the right side.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org to support women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our conversations with KingaWinfredScarlettNatasha & Tasneem, too!