Lahore (Muhammad Yasir) Sexual health has always been a taboo topic in Pakistan. Even though access to sexual education and sexual health resources is one of the basic human rights, the cultural context of the Pakistani society has made it extremely hard for people to talk openly about it. Regardless of numerous trained medical professionals operating in the country who specialize in sexual health, people are still reluctant to consult, because societal messaging has convinced them that it is a shameful act to even take help from medical professionals when it comes to sexual and reproductive health.
The impact of this unnecessary cultural taboo has been drastic. Sexual and reproductive health in Pakistan is at an all-time low. People all around the country are contracting sexually transmitted infections and, on top of it, suffering in silence. The officially calculated numbers are drastic on their own but since people never report their sexual issues the actual figure is probably a lot higher.
The ultimate demise of Sexual and Reproductive Health in Pakistan
Access to good sexual and reproductive health-care is not only a matter of better life quality, it is a matter of life and death if we take into account the number of people who get impacted by chronic infections such as HIV/AIDS or women who lose their life during illegal abortions. According to a report by UNAIDS, there has been an increase of 369% AIDS related deaths in Pakistan in a period of just eight years (2010-2018). The number of infected people has also risen from 14 000 to 22 000. The same report indicates that only 4.29% of men and women in Pakistan knew accurate ways of preventing the transmission of the HIV infection. The same can be said for other sexually transmitted diseases since the precautionary steps for STDs are all the same.
Apart from STDs Pakistanis also lack an understanding of reproductive planning. According to estimates, the most popular contraceptive method in Pakistan is abortion because people either do not know about regular contraceptives or consider them immoral or against their religious values. The worst part is that, since Pakistan’s law does not consider abortion as legal, women are forced to do them under dangerous circumstances with bad facilities. According to a 2012 report by a U.S based population council, Pakistan has one of the highest abortion rates in the entire world 48-50 per 1000 births. In 2012, a total of 2.2 million abortions were performed in Pakistan while the use of other contraceptives did not gain any momentum as it should have been.
How oladoc- a digital healthcare company, is working for better sexual healthcare in Pakistan?
oladoc is a doctor booking platform that aims to make improved healthcare universally accessible to all of Pakistan’s population. Noticing that sexual and reproductive health is in shambles in the country, oladoc set out on a mission to utilize the platform for the betterment of this crisis. The team identified that the problem could be tackled by focusing on three areas-education, counseling and bridging the gap between medical professionals and the local public.
The first step was to educate people about the extent of the problem and at the same time making them realize that they did not have to suffer in silence and that the resources were out there. Since the topic is considered a taboo and people are reluctant to engage in such conversations, the best chance of successfully imparting this education was through the digital space.
The three main tools that oladoc used for this purpose were its Youtube channel, Health Blog and social media channels such as facebook and instagram. Knowing that there was already a lot of misinformation present on the internet, oladoc made sure that the content that they produced was 100% correct. For this purpose, interviews with practicing sexologists, gynecologists and andrologists were conducted and then uploaded to the Youtube channel. This activity was important because it not only imparted educational material but also decreased the gap between practitioners and the patients as it showed people that talking to a medical professional without shame and awkwardness was possible.
The first Youtube video was published on 27th July, 2018. It was an interview with a renowned sexologist in lahore (Dr. Samra Amin) and was based on erectile dysfunction and infertility in men. The video now has more than 4.5 lac views and has motivated countless people to seek out treatment for their sexual problems. Since July 2018, oladoc has posted more than 20 detailed interviews with sexual health experts on their Youtube channel covering a wide range of topics within the subject of sexual and reproductive health. These videos combined have a viewership of more than 3 million. On other fronts, oladoc has been regularly posting blog articles that are penned down by sexologists themselves. These articles combined have a viewership of more than a quarter million.
The response to the Youtube videos and the blog articles was overwhelming and they successfully achieved the target of educating people. The next step was to provide people a space where they felt safe enough to ask for guidance and counseling. oladoc’s Facebook page came in handy at this stage as countless people started sending in messages to ask for guidance on how they could get access to medical professionals who were educating the masses on Youtube from the platform of oladoc. The oladoc team while responding to these messages made sure that people do not feel any shame or embarrassment and can ask questions freely.
The whole campaign was not only for the sake of awareness and as anticipated had an actual impact on people’s attitude towards sexual and reproductive health and oladoc has data to show that. The campaign started in July 2018, the total number of appointments related to sexologists for that year were just around 300 but as the campaign progressed and people got more aware, the number of appointments increased by 300% during 2019. The year 2020, brought an even bigger revolution for sexual health as an additional increase of 150% was seen in the number of appointments booked with sexologists and the number is increasing still. oladoc is dedicatedly working to keep up the pace for the mission of providing improved sexual and reproductive healthcare avenues to the Pakistani population.