In Bolivia, young people use WhatsApp to prevent unwanted pregnancy

Monday, December 12, 2016

sample WhatsApp screen with conversation about condom use

The social networking mobile application WhatsApp—which allows users to send messages, create groups of contacts, and share videos and images for free via wireless Internet from their smart phones—is increasingly popular around the world. And in Bolivia, Ipas is finding success using WhatsApp to connect young people with information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.

As part of a project striving to improve youth sexual and reproductive health in two Bolivian states, Ipas trained young leaders on the prevention of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. These young leaders in turn created WhatsApp groups of their peers, friends and others in their communities to share this information and discuss related health topics.

Leaders used WhatsApp to organize training meetings on sexual and reproductive health topics, provide information on contraceptive methods, answer questions from group members, and dispel myths about sexuality and pregnancy prevention. In one of the groups, youth re-shared 70 percent of the messages sent by leaders, demonstrating the power and potential of WhatsApp as a simple and easy tool for sharing health information and a platform with high rates of youth engagement.

Success was not limited to youth and their groups—the WhatsApp project also enabled direct contact between youth and local health professionals who are working to provide their communities with information on contraceptive services and youth reproductive rights.

“It helped me greatly when they came to create the club of youth leaders that we have now,” says Dr. Gonzalo de la Fuente with the Pampahasi Health Service. “The technology has allowed us … to have quick, direct contact to plan meetings and answer questions they may have.”

Bolivia’s use of social networks still basic, but growing

Earlier in 2016, Ipas Bolivia staff presented the results of a pilot study on the potential of WhatsApp to reach youth at the Yth Live conference in San Francisco—a gathering devoted to exploring innovative technologies to improve youth health and well-being.

“At this conference we met people and organizations doing some of the most innovative and effective work to advance youth health,” says Lisbeth Vogensen, who leads Ipas Bolivia’s social media efforts. “We also saw the vast difference between use of innovative mobile apps in the developed versus the developing world.”

While many impressive apps and websites exist that allow for social networking and sharing of health information, Bolivian youth don’t know about or use most of them because they have limited access to smartphones, computers and a reliable Internet connection—just like in developing countries all over the world. For this reason, the most popular apps in Bolivia are simple and quick to load, like Facebook and WhatsApp.

“But the use of social media and apps like WhatsApp in Bolivia will only increase, and that provides a huge opportunity for reaching more young people with much-needed sexual and reproductive health information,” Vogensen says.