LucyBot is a project of the organization you founded when you were just a senior in high school: Paradigm Youth Network Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to breaking the culture of silence around sex among Kenyan youth. What drove you to want to create change in this area?
I live in a very conservative society where matters of sexual and reproductive health are discussed in low tones, and only by adults. Young people’s peers become their main source of information about sex, and misinformation ends up getting spread, like the idea that washing with soap and water after sex can prevent pregnancy. Without access to reliable channels providing high-quality, accurate information on sex and sexual health, youth are prone to making ill-informed choices.
The consequences of these information gaps are a huge public health burden to Kenyan society and the people of Siaya: early and unplanned pregnancies, unsafe abortions, a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, the spread of STIs, and incorrect usage of emergency contraceptives among young women. I believed strongly that technological innovations could fill these information gaps and increase access to reliable and confidential sexual and reproductive health resources in Kenya. That’s why I created the chatbot—to provide young people with a safe online space where they can access information without censorship or discrimination.
Can you say more about why you chose chatbot technology as the way to achieve your goals?
Data collected from our community outreach and focus group discussions with young people from Siaya and Kisumu Counties, revealed that young people feel more comfortable asking questions about their sexual and reproductive health through the approachable and popular medium of Facebook Messenger.
With LucyBot, users are able to message in Facebook Messenger 24 hours a day with questions about sexual and reproductive health, and receive answers within seconds, making it the best way to deliver personalized, immediate, non-judgmental, and accurate sexual health information to young people.
LucyBot shares information with its users through conversations driven by instant messaging and can also direct users to additional resources, including the locations of existing health care facilities and live educators. The bot is greatly helping to relieve the awkwardness surrounding discussions about sexual and reproductive health, particularly in conservative African settings. It offers a safe space for young people to ask questions around the subject in private without fear of censorship and stigmatization.