Roopan Gill is co-founder and executive director of Vitala Global Foundation - a Canadian not-for-profit committed to developing digital solutions that support and facilitate access to safe abortion care in challenging contexts globally. She is an obstetrician gynecologist practicing in Toronto, in addition to working with Medecins Sans Frontieres and previously with the World Health Organization (WHO). This summer, Roopan will join nearly 100 fellows at Aspen Ideas: Health to engage in conversations on health's biggest topics. We caught up with her ahead of the event to learn about her big idea and how she is putting it into action.
Tell us about your big idea!
Aya Contigo is a digital sexual and reproductive health companion bridging self-managed abortion, miscarriage, and contraception care with mental well-being. Co-created with over 1000 Venezuelan women and girls and a dozen grassroots organizations, this digital support system has supported over 4500+ women and girls to safely access quality abortion and contraception care. We are changing the health landscape by demonstrating that digital solutions co-created and implemented with users and communities can lead to quality interventions to support people living in the most challenging contexts where their reproductive rights are under attack.
What is a “digital companion” and how can it help people access sexual and reproductive healthcare?
A “digital companion” represents someone you trust who provides accompaniment and guidance as one is going through a process of self-managing their own care. By providing both the evidence-based information and psychosocial and emotional support, a digital companion can bridge care between the formal system and self-care of sexual and reproductive healthcare in a private, secure and non-judgmental manner.
When did you come up with your big idea and what motivated you to pursue it?
I wanted to determine if a digital solution could be feasible as a harm-reduction tool for people self-managing their abortion and contraception care, because of my own personal experience with both the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders. I was curious to know if people in Venezuela would be interested in a solution that could support them digitally and if I could co-create this with them. I was motivated to pursue this because I had done something similar in Canada, co-creating and implementing a digital web-based solution to support Canadian women after surgical abortions. I am also motivated and driven to address gender inequities through the process of building trust and community. Through the process of co-creating digital solutions like Aya Contigo we are also empowering women and girls & grassroots organizations to be agents of change themselves.
Why did you decide to launch the app in Venezuela?
Venezuela is a country undergoing a complex humanitarian crisis and has one of the most restrictive abortion laws. I have had experience working in humanitarian contexts as an emergency obstetrician gynecologist with Doctors Without Borders. Given my own personal experience, I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to co-create a quality digital solution that can support women, girls and gender diverse folks to self-manage their own sexual and reproductive healthcare. Given the need, we decided to launch there. Our work is also centered around building trust and partnerships, and we were able to secure strong partnerships within Venezuela to start the process of co-creating Aya Contigo.
Beyond Aya Contigo, how is your organization, Vitala Global Foundation, working to address health inequities impacting women and girls?
We are committed to addressing health inequities through our rigorous human-centered design and research process, community engagement and movement building that is centered around ensuring we authentically center the voices of the most underserved. Due to the process that we utilize to address health inequities, we have had the opportunity to work with International Planned Parenthood Federation of America to support their Digital Health Interventions for Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare IMAP statement, and with Profamilia in Colombia to adapt an existing teleabortion service to incorporate abortion self-care. We have also had our work recognized by the IBP-Network at the World Health Organization as 1 of 5 innovative abortion programmes.
What is the next step for Aya Contigo?
In partnership with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, we are currently in the process of user testing with Latina/x in the United States to launch Aya Contigo at the end of 2023 in Spanish and English. We are also working on adapting and piloting Aya Contigo in Mexico and Chile with an aim to develop a sustainable social enterprise model that is centered on impact, ensuring that the most underserved communities have access. We are also building new features based on user inputs to provide a holistic solution that intersects sexual and reproductive health and mental wellbeing for women, girls and gender diverse folks.
The views and opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.