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Shifra: Mobile Health for Mobile Populations

Shifra is a web app that directly addresses access issues for young refugees and seeking sexual and reproductive health information.

Photo of Beccah Bartlett
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When using 15-24 years as a global definition for young people we see a demographic who are most at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, missing out on basic education, being targeted for hate crimes based on their sexuality or gender identity and for many, being targeted for sex and human trafficking especially if they are stateless or living within a mobile setting as many refugees and asylum seekers do.

What we can also see in this group are the most prolific users of mobile technology and some of the fiercest advocates for human rights and social justice in the world. By listening to and working with youth and young people we are better able to meet their needs and create space for them to be able to lead and manage health interventions that directly affect their own lives and access to services.

Shifra is a mobile health (mHealth) intervention that:

  • Increases accessible, culturally sensitive sexual and reproductive health information in the user's language of choice (including highly visual content for low literate populations)
  • Connects users to accessible and respectful sexual and reproductive health services that specialise in refugee and migrant health
  • Maps user searches to build on the granular data which determines trends and illuminates unseen and unmet need by geographic regions thereby helping us to work with partners to affect meaningful service and policy change and reduce resource wastage at the local level.

Addressing the specific health concerns of women and girls in refugee scenarios has been shown to improve the health knowledge of the communities that surround them, and is essential to increasing their safe and successful integration into host countries.

One of the primary weaknesses of this approach is a general lack of high-quality, digitised reproductive health information that can be provided to communities in crisis. Shifra's anonymous user trend data map unmet and unseen need and we then work with community-based service providers to improve services and reduce resource wastage based on these findings.

Supporting women and girls’ access to comprehensive reproductive health services not only saves lives, it also increases their chances of achieving higher education, longer-term employment and benefits entire communities through shared information and education.

Shifra is state of the art and the first of its kind, both in Australia and in the world. The web app currently operates in Arabic for community members and English for health providers. Shifra will be accessible to Victoria’s five largest non-English speaking populations by the end of 2018, national by the end of 2019 and global by 2022.

At mAdapt, we work with young to design the health information and pathways to knowledge that we share on Shifra. We also focus on mentoring these young people so that they become the skilled changemakers guiding us on where Shifra needs to increase its reach and how to best achieve this goal.

In particular, we focus our attention on young women of colour, most from refugee and displaced backgrounds to develop their existing skills in innovation, design and web development. By using human-centred design and community-based participatory approaches, mAdapt aims to put refugees at the forefront of the design and development process of this mHealth intervention. This encourages legitimacy, community control and stakeholder buy-in. mAdapt works with academic, industry and health network partners as well as community members to develop this mHealth product and plan to trial its acceptance, implementation and usefulness within northwest Melbourne-based refugee communities.

Skills acquisition and mentoring opportunities are offered to all community members who are interested in collaborating on this health intervention. This includes previous partnerships with Monash School of Art Design and Architecture (MADA) to develop the user interface of the initial mHealth product and current negotiations for coding and programming workshops with organisations that promote gender equality to increase the exposure of interested refugees to the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) fields. 

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Photo of Myrna Derksen

Within the main challenge on improving SRHR education and services for young people, reaching refugee young people and especially women is a huge challenge in itself. Inspiring to see how you involve the target group in the development of Shifra, not only content wise, but also in the design. "Nothing about us, without us!" You really take an extra step to live up to that ideal.

Photo of Beccah Bartlett

Hi Myrna Derksen Thank you so much for your comment and 1000 apologies for the delay in replying. It means a lot that you see how hard we are working with the community to ensure this isn't something that is done to or for them but WITH them. My hope is that we develop the exisiting capacity of community members so that in a few years they're running and implementing mAdapt's next projects, not me ;)

Photo of Myrna Derksen

That would be great indeed!

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