Telemedicine: Innovation for Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Coverage

Telemedicine: Innovation for Comprehensive Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Coverage

This year’s International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the global theme of  DigitAll: Innovation and technology for gender equality. 

At the Youth Network for Community and Sustainable Development (YNCSD), we embrace equity by advocating for universal health rights through unrestricted abortion care for all women.  

Yet in Nigeria, abortion access is legally restrictive, which means that abortion is illegal unless under certain conditions, such as when it is being done to save the mother’s life according to Guttmacher Institute

Also, according to an IPAS Report on Abortion Law and Policy in Nigeria: Barriers to Women’s Access to Safe and Legal Care, in 2012 alone, 1.25 million Nigerian women had an abortion, double the number estimated in 1996, in part due to the increased number of women of reproductive age. 

Almost all of those abortions were performed clandestinely, and many of them were performed by unskilled providers, using unsafe methods, or both. An estimated 40% had complications warranting treatment in a health facility.

Therefore, women need a means through which they can have access to information on safe abortion and how to obtain such services.  

One of those confidential means through which women and girls can obtain information on abortion is through the use of mobile phones and the internet. According to Statista, in a country like Nigeria, where mobile internet users have increased from 20.74% users in 2018 to 39.2% users in 2023, the mobile internet has become one of the first choices for women seeking health information especially when such information is illegal and they fear the reaction of health workers. 

Now, as a form of solution for women to have a better understanding of making use of safe abortion services, YNCSD launched the Diva Hotline in September 2021 to access information on sexual and reproductive needs. 

Diva was introduced as a helpline for women in need of help with sexual and reproductive health and rights, including self-managed abortion, to call and seek such help. The hotline is available for 8 hours, from 9am to 5pm, from Monday to Friday, and has counselors that are trained to assist callers in need of SRHR and self-managed abortion services. 

The Diva Hotline provides a host of services including but not limited to advice on care for STIs, Post-abortion care advice, gender-based violence advice, Molestation, and abuse advice, etc.

The hotline also has a robust social media presence on three social media platforms: WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook. This is to offer anonymity to and cater to those persons who need assistance but are too nervous to call and more comfortable on a texting platform. 

The Diva Hotline works with the 4Cs, one of which is consent. That everybody who contacts the hotline would be given verbal or written consent before personal details of theirs are given out. Diva Hotline will not use any detail provided by her clients for any purpose without the consent of the client. 

Secondly, any conversation or service demanded and provided is kept confidential and any client information provided is also covered by the confidentiality agreement.

Third, clients are counseled before services are provided and the counselors are well-trained. 

Lastly, the Diva hotline is obligated to connect her clients to the care they need even if she does not provide these services. This might entail connecting clients to services and other organizations that might provide these services. When this is done, the other organizations also ensure that the client receives the best care they are entitled to and the organizations also ensure that consent is given, clients’ details are kept confidential and counseling is done. 

Over the course of one year, YNCSD provided care through the Diva Hotline to approximately hundred and twenty (120) people. These callers/texters presented with different SRHR needs. And a large majority of the hotline users had their complaints satisfactorily solved. 

All callers were provided with the information that they needed and in cases where they couldn’t respond to their inquiries, they were referred to other organizations that could. 

Also, the Diva hotline has been popularized primarily with the marginalized and sexual minorities as well as the key populations, who are more likely to face discrimination when they go to healthcare centers to seek help. These key populations, such as Female Sex Workers, are more likely to require SRHR services such as access to safe abortions and advice on STI cure and prevention. These FSWs can be linked to facilities where they can get access to unrestricted care and services without fear of prejudices and judgment. The FSW can also get access to contraceptives and be educated on safe sex practices through the Diva Hotline.

Ever since the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was passed into legislation in 2013 in Nigeria, public gender expression has become very dangerous, especially in the same public spaces like shopping malls, marketplaces, streets, and places of worship. These spaces could also include hospitals and other healthcare centers. Lesbian, bisexual, and queer persons that need SRHR advice, have also been provided a safe space in the Diva Hotline.

However, going to healthcare centers might not be convenient for them, either for fear of being judged by healthcare workers or for fear of being arrested when seeking abortion care. The Diva Hotline has provided an alternative where the FSW can simply call or chat and relate her needs to the trained counselor who can either give the advice or link her to the needed care where it can be accessed safely.

YNCSD has partnered with other queer-focused organizations where LBQ persons can safely be linked to care.  

The LBQ persons who call the Diva Hotline, are assured a safe space and answer to all their SRHR needs. The counselors have been carefully trained to be able to attend to LBQ persons with the utmost respect and they are also trained to recognize and care for most of the SRHR needs that are particular to the LBQ community and the care needed to solve those complaints. 

About Youth Network for Community and Sustainable Development

As the leading advocacy group of all youth bodies working to end all forms of harmful traditional practices in Nigeria, Youth Network for Community and Sustainable Development is a movement catalyzing social change by engaging young people and amplifying their voices to speak for human rights, through targeted advocacy to key players, capacity building and development, communications and media engagements, partnerships, and program implementation.

We also work on other sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, governance, and the environment.