A sex ed chatbot aimed at helping at-risk young people looks set to be rolled out to other countries, following a successful trial in Rwanda. 

IrindeBot is a Facebook Messenger-hosted bot that provides info on sexual and reproductive health that has been in use in Rwanda from July to November this year, as part of a pilot scheme. 

The bot – which answers users’ questions in both English and Kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda – was developed by Canada-based market research firm Rival Technologies and rolled out in cooperation with NGO Rwanda Women’s Network

So, to what extent can chatbots make a difference in the developing world? The project was funded by non-profit organisation Grand Challenges Canada in response to increasing smartphone use in Rwanda. As most young people in Rwanda don’t get any form of sex education, and teen pregnancies are on the up in the country, it was decided on as the location for the pilot scheme. 

While the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic did initially affect outreach when rolling out the scheme, the bot has been met with enthusiasm by its at-risk adolescent users, and even their parents, an unexpected outcome given the taboo nature of talking about pre-marital sex in the country.

As only a quarter or so of the content is specific to Rwanda, Grand Challenges Canada is providing four other countries with funding for projects with similar tech: Brazil, India, Kenya and Nicaragua. 

Tech is a great tool for sex ed, particularly in countries where political or religious ideologies mean young people can’t always access it safely. The pandemic has further shown that effective and highly-secure chatbots could be useful in all countries, as in-person services have been significantly reduced to adhere to social distancing measures.

Chatbots can be particularly useful for young people, who may feel more comfortable typing sensitive questions via their phones, or communicating with emojis or GIFs, than speaking to someone on the phone. 

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