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Role of Technology in Public Health

The Covid-19 pandemic has left us paranoid: we worry for our lives more than ever. This paranoia has led us to become more reliant on technology for almost everything and thus, we tend to turn towards technology whenever we have a health concern. Be it a delayed period, a weird looking rash, or just a cough, a quick google search may set our minds at ease, but even though we may have an answer, ofttimes it’s not the answer we need.

Growing up in a South Asian country like Pakistan, the “s” word is seen as a taboo, rather than a basic human need and characteristic. It is, therefore, nearly impossible for teenagers to turn to their parents and guardians for such information. This is where the internet proves to be a vital resource – a space where anyone can ask anything and everything. A space which is private and judgment free.

Teenagers – and even adults – are encouraged to use this resource to learn more about their bodies and their health, including their sexual wellbeing. A simple lookup can help you familiarize yourself with the changes your body will experience during puberty, such as pubic hair growth, changes in appetite and body shape/size, acne, mood swings etc. Puberty is a very crucial part of one’s life and it is important to know what one will be experiencing. Often, teenagers get overwhelmed by such things because they have never been told about them. It is crucial to remember that the internet is full of resources, that can potentially be misleading. For example, for a weird looking rash, the internet may tell you that you have eczema, but really, you just scratched yourself in your sleep!

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“Often, teenagers get overwhelmed by such things because they have never been told about them.”

However, with an online chatbot, you do not have to worry about the loss of context as it is more than just a search. It is an actual conversation where you can explain what you are going through and provide enough context before jumping to conclusions. You can learn more about YOUR body and about YOUR changes instead of what search engines would say as a “general outline.”

Perhaps the best part about using something like an online chatbot as a resource for your sexual health queries is that it is all a click away and available for you at your convenience. Talking to someone would often require more effort in terms of coordinating availability, finding a safe space to talk and finding the right, judgment free person to talk to. What’s better is that you don’t have to worry about facing any shame or embarrassment as no human interaction is involved. Asking relevant (follow-up) questions is also not a problem, because your identity is always kept confidential so no one knows it’s you. This often allows you to ask more personal questions like those about specific conditions you may be facing or things that you feel are too personal to share with someone else.

Women in Pakistan face a lot of issues throughout their puberty and have almost little to no knowledge about sex. It is crucial for them to understand why they go through so much pain every month and particularly why they experience so many additional things, such as PMS. Some women tend to experience severe pain during their period and may be experiencing polycystic ovarian syndrome. Turning to older women in such cases does not help, primarily because they shun these younger women and tell them that it is “normal”. However, it is not normal and must be treated immediately. Access to such information can help women find the right resources for themselves.

The internet can be a particularly vital resource for family planning and for practicing safe sex. A major part of the reason why Pakistan is overpopulated is the fact that neither men nor women are educated about the contraceptive methods that are available for them. Often, they are led to believe myths like “contraceptives make you infertile,” “contraceptives are ‘haram,’” and “emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) can cause women to have abortions”. With some research and the right resources, one can tell that these are all myths and misconceptions. Using contraceptives can greatly help in family planning which is crucial to every couple’s future. However, certain websites and platforms may have contradicting information. For example, one might say that condoms are the best contraception method while the other might imply that birth-control is better. An important part of making informed decisions is to know where to look in order to get the right information.

The internet can be a powerful resource. When looking up things, it is important to note that the sources are reliable and provide relevant information. Anonymous query applications are an incredible tool that provides conversational answers to the queries we may have. These conversations tend to become ill-informed and awkward at best but with chatbots, we receive contextualized and relevant information.

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