How technology is being used to fix South Africa’s sexual reproductive health wrongs

How do you fix South Africa’s sexual and reproductive health wrongs? Help people access their rights.

In the current national strategic plan for HIV and STIs (2017-2022), one of the country’s goals is to upscale comprehensive sexuality education and linkage to sexual and reproductive health services to help the country reach its overall goal to reduce new HIV infections by more than 60% by 2022.

But there are still challenges people face when accessing these services.

In South Africa, abortion is legal up to 20 weeks, yet people with uteruses are still denied their right to terminate a pregnancy.

The country also has legislation that allows morals to trump evidence and the rights and safety of sex workers, a group that faces a high incidence of HIV. Sex workers are also beaten and raped at the hands of our police.

Having this in mind, EpiAFRIC, an African health consultancy group organised the #HealthMeetsTechSA Hackathon to develop tech-based solutions to sexual and reproductive health rights problems.

We attended the two-day event and followed as teams came up with their solutions and this is how it went:

1. What exactly is the point of a hackathon? To create African solutions to African problems that will contribute to providing technological solutions to healthcare issues on the continent.

It is the ultimate goal of #HealthMeetsTech hackathons to discover, guide and release into the market, groups of multi-disciplinary dreamers that will contribute to providing solutions to healthcare in Africa, now and for the future- @ikeanya at #HealthMeetsTechSA

— EpiAFRIC (@EpiAFRIC) November 29, 2018

2. During her keynote address, medical doctor and chairperson of the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition of South Africa, Tlaleng Mofokeng, highlighted the importance of the use of the technology when thinking about improving services in South Africa.

It is undeniable that technology is the key to a lot of the health issues we face in Africa. Sexual and reproductive health rights should not be left out- @drtlaleng of @Nalane4RJ at #HealthMeetsTechSA hackathon

— EpiAFRIC (@EpiAFRIC) November 29, 2018

3. But what are the challenges people face when it comes to sexual and reproductive health rights? Participants mapped out the challenges, some speaking from personal experiences.

Right now at the #HealthMeetsTechSA Hackathon we’re listing to what the pressing issues around #SRHR. What are some of them? Access, transactional sex, sexual assault and support and #LGBTI+ SRHR.

— Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) November 29, 2018

4. Speaking to EpiAFRIC after her keynote, Mofokeng identifies one of the major challenges associated with sexual and reproductive health rights in South Africa — a lack of access to affirming information.

At #HealthMeetsTechSA, @drtlaleng shares one of the major challenges associated with sexual and reproductive health rights in South Africa- information@impacthubjoburg @NizenandeMachi @Bhekisisa_MG @Roxy_d_Villiers @myrighttochoice @ikeanya @ekemma @TheeMissRwayi @Nzinga1663

— EpiAFRIC (@EpiAFRIC) November 29, 2018

5. The winning team, Always Safe, who came up with a bracelet which functions as a Bluetooth panic button that connects to your phone if you’re in danger of being raped. But, the team’s final solution was far from what they first envisioned — mapping trans-friendly healthcare providers.

The #HealthMeetsTechSA Hackathon team focusing on access to #SRHR services in SA. Here they are talking specifically about accessing trans-friendly providers. ”There are doctors who know how to and are willing to treat trans patients. But where are they?”

— Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) November 29, 2018

6. While coming up with technological solutions to gaps in sexual and reproductive health rights in South Africa, participants had to get around making the very technology they were coming up with, accessible to people who do not have smartphones or the internet. The winning team based their technology on utilising USSD codes which all phones are capable of.

#HealthMeetsTechSA Hackathon. A participant asks important questions around access to the very tech they’re trying to come up with. What about people who don’t have access smartphones, computers and internet?

— Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) November 29, 2018

7. After addressing questions around access to the technology, teams had to answer other important questions around the matter — how much will they sell the technology for if at all.

What’s first up on the second day of the #HealthMeetsTechSA Hackathon? Creating a business model for the #SRHR tech. Facilitator: How much will it cost to make? How much will I sell it for? Who is this useful for? Groups are now answering these questions.

— Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) November 30, 2018

8. After finalising their business model, teams worked on their prototype before coming up with a pitch to present to the judges for the grand prize of over R20 000 to kick-start their solution.

Now that teams have wrapped up working on their tech, they have to find a way to pitch it to the judges. #HealthMeetsTechSA

— Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) November 30, 2018

9. Once pitches were finalised, practiced and timed to the allocated seven minutes, teams were ready to present their technological solutions.

It’s the most anticipated moment of the #HealthMeetsTechSA Hackathon!!!

Pitching of tech ideas to solve South Africa’s sexual and reproductive health issues begins now!
Watch live:

— EpiAFRIC (@EpiAFRIC) November 30, 2018

10. In fourth place was team Let’s Talk, who presented a platform where young people can access sexual health news and make use of a menstrual cycle tracker and a puberty journal to better understand their bodies.

Team three presents an app, Let’s Talk, a sexual health awareness platform. The app provides sexual health news, counseling and a journal, allowing users record menstrual cycles, sexual activities etc

— EpiAFRIC (@EpiAFRIC) November 30, 2018

11. In third place was Lwazi, an online support chat platform that would get people talking about sexual reproductive health rights and mental health. The platform would offer support and information to rape survivors and people with uteruses diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Pitches just started at the #HealthMeetsTechSA Hackathon. First up is a group talking about #SRHR and #MentalHealth. Their tech is a phone app that revolves around support chat.

— Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) November 30, 2018

12. Team Ribbon Blockchain came in second after the judges decided against splitting the grand prize in half. They presented a platform which would incentivise and gamify preemptively accessing the healthcare system, to increase HIV and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment adherence.

Team Ribbon Blockchain created an online platform where patients and healthcare workers are incentivised to interact with the healthcare system. #HealthMeetsTechSA

— Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) November 30, 2018

13. Always Safe, the winning team, presented a solution for a marginalised group within sexual and reproductive health rights — sex workers. They came up with a Bluetooth panic button which sends an SMS to a sex worker’s emergency contacts if they are in danger. The phone app then gives aftercare support to sex workers such what to do in the event of a rape.

Team Always Safe talks about their tech which is a phone app and panic button bracelet which is aimed at #sexworkers. The tech allows the wearer to push the button and let their emergency contacts know if they are in danger.

— Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) November 30, 2018



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Roxy de Villiers
Roxy de Villiers was the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism social media content producer and engagement officer. She believes the personal is political and has an interest in reporting on queer health issues. She honed her skills in community media and has also worked with the Rosebank-based community radio station, Radio Today, as a guest newsreader.

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