As part of the session "Digital Justice and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights" from the Gender & Health Hub Virtual Forum 2023, we explored the realm of reproductive health, criminalization, and the promising intersection of digital solutions. The dialogue, based on a comprehensive cross-country research study, discussed both challenges and opportunities within this critical domain.
Dr. Roopan Gill, Co-Founder of Vitala Global Foundation, was among the participants and played a pivotal role in co-authoring the article “Lessons Learned from Developing and Implementing Digital Health Tools for self-managed abortion and Sexual and reproductive healthcare in Canada, the United States, and Venezuela.”
The heart of the discussion revolved around the work of the Vitala Global Foundation, operating at the intersection of abortion, contraception, and miscarriage. The foundation navigates restrictive settings, placing a significant emphasis on digital health. The study sought to showcase digital solutions co-created in diverse contexts, emphasizing that investing in human-centered design is key to meeting users’ SRH needs and care expectations. Digital security and transparency in data management must be a top priority for protecting users and community stakeholders. Additionally, digital health tools can enhance users’ experiences with healthcare systems and community-based SRH organizations.
The conversation unveiled also Vitala’s digital solution, Aya Contigo, a digital abortion companion developed in Venezuela. This tool provides real-time and human psycho-emotional support, navigating the complexities of Venezuela's restrictive abortion laws. The foundation intentionally chose Venezuela to showcase the potential of digital solutions in challenging contexts.
The study underscored the transformative power of digital interventions, especially in the face of legal restrictions. Digital tools, such as telemedicine, mobile apps, and social media, emerged as invaluable resources, countering restrictive legislation and fostering innovation.
Despite the promise of digital solutions, the conversation acknowledged the importance of recognizing digital tools as just one facet of the reproductive health landscape. It emphasized the need for a holistic approach, considering factors such as distance, access to care, and the understanding that digital tools are not a panacea.
The heart of Vitala’s work lies in human-centered design, meticulous data collection, and a steadfast commitment to safeguarding and data security. The conversation stressed the significance of recognizing the responsibility involved in digital interventions and the importance of co-creation with local partners.
The conversation took a critical turn towards addressing risks, acknowledging the challenges faced in the digital space, particularly around reproductive health. The conversation touched upon the issue of censorship by major organizations like Meta and Google, highlighting the need for open conversations to combat misinformation and ensure access to accurate reproductive health information.
On the full panel, the conversation has uncovered crucial insights into the dynamic role of digital technologies in advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), affirming that it's essential to recognize that digital technologies are tools, not all-encompassing solutions, in the pursuit of comprehensive SRHR for everyone. The need for frameworks addressing intersectionality—considering disability, sexuality, race, gender, and socioeconomic status—takes precedence to avoid exacerbating existing inequalities. The panel also underscored the call for a holistic approach to digital justice, incorporating aspects of access, design, decision-making, and gender considerations.
Urgent steps are warranted to address online violence against women, transgender, and gender-diverse individuals, alongside a pivotal emphasis on accessible digital privacy policies collaboratively developed with end-users. This emphasizes our collective journey toward fostering a digital landscape that is truly equitable and fair.
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