By Nellie Peyton
DAKAR, Feb 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Young people in Democratic Republic of Congo are turning to their phones to consult “Doctor Love” – not a matchmaker but a mobile app that answers questions about sex and childbirth.
The service is much needed in the central African country where many people lack basic information about contraceptives and the rate of teenage pregnancy is high, according to its founder Aime Lokulutu, a doctor in the capital Kinshasa.
Only one in ten Congolese women use modern contraception, and a quarter give birth before the age of 18, according to the latest data from the United Nations’ Population Fund (UNFPA).
“We had many friends who got girlfriends pregnant when we were students, and I knew people who died from bad abortions,” Lokulutu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. “We did not have anyone who could give us appropriate information.”
Embarrassment and stigma often prevent people from going to health clinics or seeking advice, he added.
Lokulutu launched the app and website late last year with a team of doctors who answer questions. Users are anonymous but can see other people’s questions, and the answers they receive.
“It is a very good idea,” said Achu Lordfred, an advisor on reproductive health for UNFPA in Congo.
“There is enough information available, but young people have issues of ignorance and access.”
Abortion is illegal in Congo and many people use dangerous methods to end unwanted pregnancies, Lordfred said.
Sexual and reproductive health services are also unaffordable for much of the population, he added.
Other mobile services in Congo give basic information on sexual health, but Doctor Love is the only one that provides personal responses, said Lokulutu.
Three months after launching, the website has had about 11,000 visits.
“It makes people feel comfortable because they’re actually talking to somebody,” Lokulutu said.
Other African entrepreneurs have created similar apps.
In Rwanda, two medical students created a mobile app called Tantine last year to provide sexual health information and counselling to teenagers in refugee camps.
Funded by UNFPA, the app is now available across the whole country and has 1,500-odd users, said co-founder Sylvie Uhirwa.
“Being medical students, we were able to meet with doctors who had clear and reliable knowledge on sexual health issues,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But that is a privilege denied to many young people, especially vulnerable refugees.” (Reporting by Nellie Peyton, Editing by Kieran Guilbert, Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)