A new paradigm for reproductive health: Using technology to reach young people

Born into an increasingly digital world, more young people than ever before are using mobile technologies to connect, communicate and share information. The pace of technological innovation has enabled an expansion in the reach of mobile networks, improving connectivity and access to information for millions of young people around the world.

The U.N. Population Fund puts young people at the heart of development, and recognizes the power of technology to reach and empower young people in a rapidly changing world. Through a design challenge and hackathon, this month UNFPA is bringing young, innovative minds from around the world, together with specialists in adolescent sexual reproductive health and leading software engineers, to develop new mobile app platforms that can be used to better reach young people with critical health information.

By employing a user-centered design approach, the Hack for Youth hackathon in Kampala, Uganda, will put young people’s voices at the center of the hackathon, designing mobile health solutions that resonate with their views, needs and experiences. After three days of intensive design and development, Hack for Youth will conclude with a pitch session, where an expert panel of judges, joined by online voters from around the world, will select the winning app prototypes.

The tremendous expansion in cellphone and Internet coverage over the past decades offers an opportunity for innovation to empower young people with the information they need to make choices about their health and relationships. Evidence shows that mHealth can strengthen health systems and improve people’s access to vital services. Mobile technologies also bring added benefits for young people by offering relative privacy and confidentiality, and speak to an era where young people increasingly turn to the Internet to find answers to their questions.

Young people at the center of the tech revolution

Many of today’s leading mHealth innovations are being created by young people themselves.

In Uganda, for example, young people have developed mobile apps to monitor fetal distress, diagnose breast cancer, and disseminate information on HIV and AIDS. Two former students from Makerere University College of Computing and Information Technology in Kampala developed WinSenga, a mobile medical device linked to a mobile phone that can scan a pregnant woman’s womb or detect fetal problems. Using technology based on the traditional Pinard horn that is used to listen the heart rate of a fetus during pregnancy, the device allows the examiner to determine the age, weight, position and breathing pattern of the fetus.

Technology is revolutionizing modes of doing business, and many innovators are now leveraging this know-how to showcase their innovative ideas to solve development challenges.

‘Hacking’ mHealth solutions

Investing in young people, especially adolescent girls, is one of the smartest investments a country can make, helping to break the cycle of poverty, and strengthening the social fabric to create a sustainable future.

UNFPA advocates for the rights of young people, including the right to accurate information and services related to sexuality and reproductive health. Empowered with knowledge and skills to protect themselves and make informed decisions, they can realize their full potential and contribute to economic and social transformation of the world around them.

As the largest generation of adolescents enters their reproductive years, access to sexual and reproductive health information, education, care, and services are essential. Yet many young people, and young women in particular, face significant barriers to accessing critical health information and quality services.

Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #HackForYouth to share your creative ideas on the best features for a mHealth app for young people. You can follow the Hack for Youth live on Twitter @UNFPAInnovation, including livestream sessions and interactive links to vote for your favorite app prototypes.

To read additional content on global health, go to Focus On: Innovation in partnership with Philips.

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