In 2015, Kidist Tesfaye, a 30-year-old public health, education, and finance specialist, returned from the United States to Addis Ababa and began working at Kidus Paulos Hospital. She saw a wide knowledge gap among the locals with regards to sexual and reproductive health throughout her time there.
Kidist became aware of the healthcare system’s burden in serving women and noticed the numerous problems, particularly in sexual and reproductive care. She also observed that many of the existing viewpoints were largely done conventionally.
That insight made her realize there was an issue that needed to be addressed.
Aside from her day-to-day experiences in healthcare, she saw the stigma that Ethiopian women suffer when it comes to sex and reproductive health, as well as a lack of access to items that provide basic reproductive care.
The cumulative realizations prompted Kidist to enlist the assistance of professionals to begin the process of bridging the gap. Before starting Yene Health, Kidist says they spent approximately a year researching and trying to grasp the myriad difficulties surrounding sex and reproductive health in Ethiopia.
Yene Health is a mobile and web application that provides women with access to health information via its learning portal, which is now available in English and Amharic with more languages on the way.
It also features an e-pharmacy where women can get pharmaceutical and feminine products for sexual or reproductive health issues. It also includes a “Tele Health” option that allows any woman to call or talk to a health professional online or over the phone.
“One of the main things we wanted to do with Yene Health was ensure that women could get access to sexual and reproductive health products while also being able to talk about any problems they may face during pregnancy or in their overall sexual health without stigma and in private settings,” Kidist says.
Yene Health’s digital platform aims to fulfill any need a woman may have about sexual and reproductive health, encompassing themes such as family planning, prenatal care, and so on. It also helps adolescent girls and women establish control over their bodies in a stigma-free, caring, and intimate atmosphere.
They attempted to design everything in a women-centered manner, taking into account the issues that many women face while ensuring that it is simple, convenient to use, and free to access, Kidist says.
During her journey to establish Yene Health, Kidist discovered how little education individuals were receiving in schools about sex and reproductive health. She also learned that Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of sex and reproductive health education in sub-Saharan Africa.
Sexual and reproductive health is a highly taboo subject, so it is kept quiet and discussed only behind closed doors. More than one in every five women still has an unmet need for FP, and among adolescents, reproductive health information is still mostly communicated through friends and is frequently erroneous, according to the Ethiopian Statistics Service (ESS).
“We established our platform with the idea of education awareness in mind; as a result, educating is as important to us as advocating, and the learning portal was created because we feel we must begin by filling the knowledge gap,” Kidist said.
One of the most significant obstacles they encountered on their path was stigma, and conquering it was one of the hurdles that Yene Health faced, according to her. Stigma is a significant issue that women fear, not just in Ethiopia but throughout the world, and Kidist believes that addressing the issue through non-human interaction could help alleviate the fear of stigma.
“The most terrifying thought is approaching a medical expert and discussing their condition. That’s where technology comes in, because women can talk about their concerns and ask questions anonymously online, removing the worry of being ostracized.”
She continued to say that the responses to these concerns and inquiries are not merely web responses or vague retaliations found on Google searches. Instead, the responses are tailored, culturally relevant, and provided by verified experts who know what they’re talking about.
In Addis Ababa, the present focus of Kidist and the Yene Health team is on enabling internet access for women and young people. They intend to collaborate with government organizations that already have a framework for working in remote and low-access areas in the field of sex and reproductive health in the future to expand their work and assist as many women as possible.