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Peace Corps Creates Text Messaging Health Hotline In Nicaragua



Published on 09 April 2014



by Office of the Spokesperson

(WireNews)

Washington, D.C.

To empower Nicaraguans to lead healthier, safer lives, returned Peace Corps volunteer Lauren Spigel and current Peace Corps volunteer Nishant Kishore, together with fellow volunteers and community members, have created a text message–based health hotline called ChatSalud to anonymously share accurate health information and connect Nicaraguans to local health resources.

An unwillingness to talk openly about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaragua has led to a widespread lack of reliable information for young people and high rates of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. The topic is considered taboo, and as a result, about one in every four adolescent girls in Nicaragua will become pregnant before they turn 18, and only about 60 percent of the rural population engages in family planning.

“In the small community where I was living and working, youth often faced barriers when accessing sexual and reproductive health information,” said Spigel, of Baltimore, Maryland. “In doing our work as Peace Corps volunteers, we found that people want information about sexual and reproductive health, but they want a way to get it anonymously.”

Spigel and her colleagues found that while less than 10 percent of households in Nicaragua had access to the Internet, nearly 90 percent of the population had access to a mobile phone. The volunteers’ mobile solution is filling an important gap by making sexual and reproductive health information accessible in a reliable and confidential way that resonates with Nicaraguan youth.

The free text hotline will be the first of its kind in the country and will work to break down the stigma associated with talking about sexual and reproductive health in Nicaraguan culture. The ChatSalud team has brought together significant resources and local organizations, including the Nicaraguan government, to get the program off the ground. With the help of local telecommunications companies, the text message service will be completely free for users.

“ChatSalud is showing that Peace Corps volunteers can mobilize coordinated efforts between partners at the grass-roots and national levels,” Spigel said.

Youth from the program’s pilot community in rural northern Nicaragua are already proving the impact of the project, and in the months ahead, ChatSalud hopes to expand across the country.

“Really, this is what the modern Peace Corps is all about,” Spigel said. “With ChatSalud, we identified a problem at the grass-roots level and had the flexibility, perseverance and technological know-how to innovate a solution.”

There are 172 Peace Corps volunteers in Nicaragua working in the areas of community economic development, environment, health and education. During their service in Nicaragua, volunteers learn to speak the local language of Spanish. More than 2,295 Peace Corps volunteers have served in Nicaragua since the program was established in 1968.

 

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Posted 2014-04-09 12:38:00