Online reproductive health services expanded to protect more women amid pandemic

To protect women's health amid the pandemic, government agencies and private firms have been utilizing digital avenues to provide more women access to reproductive health products and services.

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According to the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), family planning services in the country have decreased by over 50 percent in March last year due to limited staff at government-run reproductive clinics.

To address this, POPCOM Executive Director Juan Antonio A. Perez said the agency set up hotlines for remote medical consultations and door-to-door delivery of birth control supplies.

"While we have since built up systems for women to gain access to health services through a variety of channels," Perez said.

"We need innovative solutions from both private and public sectors that champion women’s reproductive health choices and empower women to make informed choices," he added.

For the part of pharmaceutical company Bayer Philippines, it has expanded the features of its "Ask Mara" chatbot to include access to teleconsultation services.

Bayer's Ask Mara is a chatbot that can be accessed through Facebook Messenger that can give advice on contraception and reproductive health. It can now also help locate nearby drugstores or get or get more information soon on topics like androgen excess and endometriosis.

During the recent virtual launching of Ask Mara's new features, leading women's health advocates and influencers looked back on the history of the contraceptive pill and reaffirmed the importance of giving Filipinas safe and easy access to the right information and support to make informed reproductive health choices.

"With our current limited access to professional advice, Mara gives us real power through reliable information. She gives us options, provides reliable information, and just enables us to make an informed choice," Inka Magnaye, voice talent and host of podcast series Sleeping Pill with Inka said.

For her part, Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society fellow Dr. Marie Michelle Dado said emphasized the need for patients to be knowledgeable for better health outcomes.

"In this pandemic where it can be difficult to get in touch with doctors and find options for contraceptive and reproductive health, these new features help take some of the worry out for women and let us focus on ourselves, on work and our family," Dado added.

This was echoed by Jillian Gatcheco, reproductive rights advocate and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Philippines, adding that having options to ensure women's health is important.

"It’s great that Ask Mara is there as a friendly resource for Filipinas who want on-demand advice about contraception and reproductive health. It’s accessible, expert-driven, and most importantly—non-judgmental," she said.

On top of the new features, Ask Mara also provides information on different contraceptive options, both natural and modern methods, as well as responds to frequently asked questions and includes a pill reminder feature to help those who are just getting started.