COVID-19 catalyzed digital transformation for reproductive health

By Andrea Novella, Global Digital Advisor, Social Business Unit, PSI and Eden Demise, Research Associate, Strategy and Insights, PSI

When COVID-19 restrictions impacted PSI’s Social Business Unit’s (SBU) marketing and distribution activities and hampered our consumers’ ability to travel to physical storefronts to purchase sexual and reproductive health products, we had to adapt. We quickly pivoted to digital channels in 10 countries to connect people to care, with plans to expand to others.

So what did our digital strategy entail?

  • Providing on-demand information through social media platforms: When client demand for sexual and reproductive health (SRH) products and services dropped in the face of COVID-19, PSI’s Social Business Unit’s (SBU) launched campaigns and created social media platforms on Facebook and Instagram with global messaging on menstrual, sexual, and reproductive health, adapted to the local context. For example, PSI’s India Private Limited (IPL) launched the “Between Us” platform in June 2020 on Facebook and Instagram reaching women ages 18-34 with menstrual and SRH self-care information, including how/where they can access care.
  • Connecting consumers to care through telemedicine and e-counseling: To connect clients on the social media platforms to providers amidst movement restrictions, the SBU developed partnerships with SRH e-counseling and telemedicine platforms. The e-counseling platform provided personalized SRH information leveraging current messaging systems such as Facebook Messenger in some markets. The telemedicine platforms with third party providers offered consumers referrals to an e-pharmacy for desired SRH products.
  • Ensuring access to products and services by signposting consumers to e-pharmacies: The SBU partnered with local e-pharmacies, e-commerce platforms, uber-like applications, and trusted motorbikes to distribute short-term SRH products with an at-home delivery option. By adopting this digital approach, we helped reach millions of people with SRH information and connected thousands of clients to services and products.
What impact did we make through our digital approach?

Between April-October 2020, across 10 countries in South-East Asia, East & South Africa, and the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, we ran 373 ads on social media platforms, reached 39.5 million individuals with key messaging and initiated over 2.5 million engagements and over 126,000 one-on-one conversations.

To connect clients to products and services, the SBU built several partnerships with social media, telemedicine, and e-commerce/ home delivery platforms. In India, which represents a fast-growing digital health market, the “Between Us” Facebook and Instagram platforms launched in June 2020, reached an average of 1.2 million people monthly with messaging in the first 6 months.

After partnering with an e-consultation website in June 2020, PSI’s India Private Limited (IPL) linked nearly 600 young women to an e-consultation between July and November 2020.

In the LAC region, which represent a growing digital health market, 3 digital campaigns deployed across seven countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Dominican Republic) reached over 11 million people with messaging and received over 1.6 million engagements, and over 42,000 one-on-one conversations between April-October 2020.

In Uganda, which represents a nascent digital health market, a June 2020 digital campaign reached 1.2 million people with messaging and received over 41,000 engagements, and linked people to three different SRH product distribution partners between June and September 2020.

What did we learn?

  • Barriers to SRH access are real: Addressing them resonates with consumers. Communications materials referencing barriers to SRH access during the COVID-19 pandemic generated the greatest number of one-on-one messages in the LAC region. 
  • Partnerships with other organizations enhances synergies. For example, in Uganda, the SBU partnered with social media companies to drive demand, e-commerce platforms for product orders, and apps for fast at-home motorbike delivery. 
  • The online consumer journey needs to continually be refined to be more seamless. For example, In India, IPL is now collaborating with an e-pharmacy that generates online e-prescriptions at the time of purchase for clients seeking a fast process to obtain a method. 

Moving forward, PSI is building on these learnings and expanding its offering through the launch of VIYA. It’s our first global sexual wellness lifestyle brand harnessing technology including artificial intelligence, e-commerce, and telemedicine to deliver SRH information, products, and services to women across low and middle income countries. 

PSI’s COVID-19 adaptations in India and Uganda were documented through Research for Scalable Solutions (R4S), a global project funded by USAID and led by FHI 360 in partnership with Evidence for Sustainable Human Development Systems in Africa (EVIHDAF), Makerere University School of Public Health in Uganda (MakSPH), Population Services International (PSI), and Save the Children (STC).

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