In some settings, self-care is a relatively new concept. Hashtags like #selfcare, #selflove, and “Self-Care Sundays’’ have accompanied wholesome messaging, inspirational quotes, and photos of candle-lit bubble baths aimed at normalizing the notion of taking care of oneself — especially for women. But ironically, for the majority of human history, women have had to care for themselves and each other for some of the most fundamental human experiences; experiences like menstruation, pregnancy, labor, and childcare. And while the civil rights and women’s liberation movements, as well as the advent of social concepts like holistic lifestyle and fitness, have gone a long way toward integrating self-care into day-to-day life, sexual and reproductive health (SRH) remains an area where women struggle to establish and maintain their own control. Luckily, tech innovations like askNivi are changing that narrative.
Founded in 2015, Nivi is a digital health company with a mission to enable every person to realize their own aspirations for health. Nivi’s private, interactive chat service, askNivi, is accessible for free through popular messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp in India, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. askNivi serves as both a digital marketplace of health resources — physical and virtual — as well as a reservoir of health information and actionable guidance, which work in tandem to elevate users’ agency in achieving their health goals. With a heavy focus in SRH, Nivi strives to apply a gender lens to all initiatives, content, and insights in an effort to help men, women, and youth make more informed, better supported, and more equitable decisions about their health and wellness — which is how the organization became focused on maternal health and self-care.
askNivi pregnancy and post-pregnancy guidance began in Nigeria; where Pathfinder, a Nivi partner, sought tech solutions to both freely educate women and their partners about the most pertinent health needs of new and expecting moms and their children, as well as regularly remind them of (and provide them easy access to) fundamental in-person antenatal and postnatal health evaluations — a monumental task, regardless of location. But Nivi, with its years of experience in executing public health interventions through mobile devices, was eager to take it on. In fact, woven into the content — released in full just last fall — is a metric ton of health information that helps mothers and their children get, and stay, healthy through the most vulnerable period of maternal care. Nivi users can expect 48 weeks of content (twice-a-week health reminders beginning as early as week 10 of pregnancy) continuing through 15 weeks of postnatal support. That’s 96 sets of messages, 4 user satisfaction surveys, 8 antenatal healthcare visit reminders, 4 postnatal healthcare visit reminders, and an equal number of healthcare visit assessments that await users engaging with Nivi’s health chatbot in Nigeria.
Nivi’s ANC/PNC journey, as it is internally referred to, has been extremely successful at both informing women of pivotal pregnancy milestones, needs, and potential warning signs; but from an anecdotal perspective, it has also proven effective at motivating women to pursue essential primary care individually. In fact, one of Nivi’s partners in Nigeria, Pathfinder, reported in 2021 that healthcare workers noticed women returning to clinics specifically because they received an askNivi reminder. And that, I believe, summarizes the potential for health organizations’ involvement in SRH self-care ideation and care delivery — arming women with the information they need to thrive, and empowering them to do so.
The success of, and interest in, Nivi’s ANC/PNC program in Nigeria has led to its recent re-contextualization in India; currently in progress. The release of that program in English and Hindi is scheduled to take place in early 2022.
Because women everywhere deserve the opportunity to take care of their own needs and that of their offspring; and self-care strategies like this one are a giant step in that direction.
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