ScienceHow the UN’s ‘Sex Agency’ Uses Tech to Save...

How the UN’s ‘Sex Agency’ Uses Tech to Save Mothers’ Lives


Towards the top of 2020, on a piece journey to Chocó, Colombia, Jaime Aguirre got here throughout a lady—maybe 11 or 12 years outdated—holding a new child. 

“Is that this your child?” Aguirre requested. Sure, she stated. He was shocked. “Can I ask you—sorry—why did you get pregnant so younger?”

“My boyfriend on the time informed me that the primary time that you’ve got intercourse, you don’t get pregnant,” he says she replied. 

Aguirre is the innovation coordinator for the United Nations Inhabitants Fund (UNFPA) in Colombia, a human rights company targeted on reproductive well being. It’s the UN’s “intercourse company,” and Aguirre describes his job as bolstering well being in his nation by supporting new applied sciences. Making them accessible to younger folks is particularly vital, as a result of being pregnant is the primary killer of ladies aged 15 to 19 worldwide, based on knowledge from Save The Youngsters and UNFPA.

Chocó is a poor space with a big Afro-Colombian inhabitants and comparatively excessive charges of adolescent being pregnant. Individuals there rely extra on conventional midwifery than the hospital system, so on the time he met the younger mom, Aguirre was there to assist Partera Very important, or Very important Midwife. The undertaking is rolling out a cellular app to assist midwives register newborns and establish threat elements and problems that warrant pressing referrals to the closest hospital. It’s meant to mix the very best of each worlds—preserving the knowledge and custom of midwifery with the info and sources of institutional well being. “Innovation tradition is essential for us,” says Aguirre.

“We really feel we’re one of many UN’s greatest saved secrets and techniques,” says Eddie Wright, a consultant for UNFPA. “We would like each being pregnant to be wished, each beginning to be secure, and each younger individual to succeed in their potential.” This implies serving to to offer folks in 150 nations, together with areas which can be at struggle, with household planning, contraception, and maternal well being checkups. World wide, the company has innovated with Huge Information, drones, and even a robotic in an effort to safeguard well being and rights. Right here’s a have a look at a number of the initiatives they’re main.


When Aguirre returned from Chocó, he was nonetheless pondering of the city’s excessive charges of adolescent being pregnant and maternal mortality. Myths about reproductive well being should be enjoying a task, he thought, and reversing them ought to assist. So he got down to establish those in circulation on social media.

“So I obtained my R,” Aguirre says, referring to the programming language, and wrote a code for scraping tweets in Spanish from wherever on the earth. “I discovered two myths in a short time,” he remembers. “And I used to be very involved.” One discouraged folks from getting IUDs by claiming that newborns may come out holding the gadgets of their hand; one other advisable boiling condoms and ingesting the water to keep away from being pregnant. His group, which named the undertaking Taboo, scaled up, capturing 12,000 tweets from Latin America and Spain that portrayed myths about contraception. They categorized them into 22 prevalent themes that ranged from telling people who they’ll’t get STIs via oral intercourse to encouraging them to make use of Coca-Cola as a contraceptive.

The group’s knowledge, methodology, and summaries at the moment are out there on an internet site meant for younger ladies, educators, and policymakers, together with infographics debunking every delusion. They’ve shared their findings with each Colombia’s Ministry of Well being and district officers in Bogotá who design intercourse ed packages. “Behavioral change just isn’t a factor you’ll be able to measure in a brief time period,” says Aguirre, however he’s optimistic concerning the potential of his undertaking. 

The Philippines

A UNFPA group from the Philippines instituted the same undertaking throughout Covid lockdowns. The nation has one of many highest adolescent being pregnant charges in Asia—in 2017, 9 % of 15-to-19-year-olds had kids. (The Philippines’ Fee on Inhabitants and Growth, generally known as PopCom, known as it a nationwide emergency.) Almost 1 / 4 of married ladies and half of single ladies within the nation have unmet wants for household planning. 

“We seen that there’s restricted and outdated knowledge on household planning,” says Leila Joudane, the UNFPA’s consultant within the Philippines. As in Colombia, a group started scraping on-line feedback for extra present data to complement authorities demographic surveys. They used Twitter and, an academic web site for the Filipino public about reproductive well being, and discovered that individuals had been complaining about poor entry to contraceptives. “It was a really strict lockdown,” Joudane remembers. “Many individuals on-line had numerous challenges.” They shared this knowledge with PopCom, which responded by distributing contraceptives door-to-door. 


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