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Thursday, October 21, 2021
New York, Oct 5 2021 (IPS) - Telemedicine and health-related information have experienced a massive uptake since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year. While online health services are seen as a panacea for many ills, disinformation and fake news reports have tarnished their credibility.
The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021 found that many consumers have rapidly adopted new digital behaviors during lockdowns. This has opened up new digital opportunities and highlighted the next set of challenges. Across countries, almost 73% of the population now access news via a smartphone, up from 69% in 2020. During the pandemic, governments worldwide have focused on these personal devices to communicate. Consumers now depend more and more on personal devices to read up on Government restrictions, report symptoms, book appointments for vaccines, and access news.
Research done in 12 countries indicates that 66 percent of users use one or more social networks or messaging apps for consuming, sharing, or discussing news. Facebook, TikTok, Telegram, Instagram, and WhatsApp are among the leading social media platform for user engagement and news sharing.
Nina Jain, who lives in Connecticut, USA, says she has used online health information extensively since the start of the pandemic.
“I was frantically looking from one portal to the next, trying to make sense of what is going on with the pandemic. Being a mother of five children and taking care of elderly in-laws, it was imperative to navigate well and stay prepared. Community health centers were closed in our areas, and getting appointments at the doctor’s offices was very difficult,” Jain said in an interview with IPS.
“Telephone helplines, nurses-on-call, and government sites were my go-to portals for credible health news and services online. It took me and my family a lot of convincing to make my parents, who reside in India, agree to use online portals to book appointments and get treated. As a caregiver, this was a breakthrough and much-needed adjustment.”
An article published in Fierce Healthcare says telemedicine demand is expected to grow annually by approximately 38% over the next five years. Worldwide, innovative telemedicine companies and social media platforms are stepping up to meet this trend and are increasing telemedicine’s reach and improving what it can do.
Throughout the pandemic, women empowerment platform Fuzia has been concerned about ensuring its readers have credible and up-to-date information.
Fuzia co-founder Riya Sinha says this aligns with the website’s ethos of empowerment, diversity, inclusion and supports good health and well-being in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Through our community, we have begun to organize events and webinars and have tried to become a knowledge sharing and an experience-sharing platform, where real users express their concerns about menstruation, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), mental health, depression, stress, teen issues, and overall health factors,” Sinha says.
Fuzia’s co-founder Shraddha Varma agrees: “We do not want women to just be givers of care, but we also want them to be receivers of care. To actually take some time off and just listen to what the body is telling us, to not constantly feel like they deserve to suppress their voices.”
The site has more than 5 million followers. They have an active user base on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn and use its extensive global presence to create a safe and creative space for users.
Dedeepya Tatineni, a user of the platform, found herself suffering from mental health problems during the pandemic. She made use of the forum and its counselors.
“The counselors of Fuzia are really helpful. I do not feel depressed now, and I feel a lot better. Expressing myself on Fuzia has made me feel more confident and happier,” Tatineni said.
Research has indicated that as the pandemic spread throughout the world, it caused considerable fears – the disruptions during lockdowns and its effects on livelihoods exacerbated the impact.
An article in Nature indicates that early results from studies on mental health suggest that during the pandemic, “young people rather than older young people, are most vulnerable to increased psychological distress, perhaps because their need for social interactions are stronger. Data also suggest that young women are more vulnerable than young men, and people with young children, or a previously diagnosed psychiatric disorder, are at particularly high risk for mental health problems.”
For many women around the world, wellness, in general, is perceived as a luxury. Men often get priority for healthcare. Topics like menstruation, pregnancies, female hygiene, teen and tween’s mental, physical, sexual, and emotional well-being, postpartum depression are overlooked or not discussed because they are taboo.
Women and girls too are affected by “period poverty,” where lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and waste management students miss classes and stay indoors.
Menstrual health is not just a women’s issue. Globally, 2.3 billion people live without basic sanitation services, and in developing countries, only 27% of people have adequate handwashing facilities at home, according to UNICEF. Not using these facilities makes it harder for women and young girls to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
Varma and Sinha are determined that Fuzia remains committed to providing a judgment-free zone and prepared for difficult discussions about taboo topics.
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