Misinformation and lack of awareness about women’s reproductive health are still widespread around the world. Zoya Ali, a researcher and academic based in the UK, is on a mission to remove the taboo surrounding discussions about women’s health and promote access to reliable information.

By harnessing the power of social media, staying up to date with mobile apps and digital services, and partnering with a company specializing in femtech—software and technology-based services tailored to women’s health—Zoya hopes to empower people and reshape the narrative around reproductive and sexual health.

Digitalisation of reproductive health

In recent years, digital health services have become increasingly popular, facilitating remote assessment and treatment of symptoms. Zoya routinely tests various mobile apps for female reproductive health.

“Digitalization has made it much easier to track things and recognize patterns,” she says. “We used to have to record our menstrual cycles in a diary or try to memorize them. Today, you can just enter the data into an app and get instant insights about your body.”

A health screening today may include an online questionnaire, the answers to which are analyzed using an algorithm to identify potential conditions or problem areas. Some platforms allow doctors to refine the analysis and provide personalized recommendations without ever seeing the patient in person. This so-called “remote first” approach can help close access gaps and bring vital health resources to remote areas.

Some mobile apps can point out symptoms related to reproductive conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis that may otherwise go undetected for years. However, Zoya stresses that apps cannot replace professional medical advice. “It’s important to remember that a chatbot cannot replace a healthcare professional,” she says.

Because health apps rely on data entered by patients themselves, users are responsible for providing accurate information. “At the same time, people should be cautious when sharing personal health data with third parties, especially when it comes to women’s sexual and reproductive health,” Zoya explains. She adds that investing in digital health literacy is crucial to ensure users know how to use these tools effectively.

Closing knowledge gaps

In addition to her work and research, Zoya runs a popular Instagram page dedicated to reproductive health and sex education called Uteropedia. With an audience of over 30,000 followers, she covers topics such as contraception, menstrual health and fertility, which she presents with colorful infographics and engaging videos.

“Conversations about women’s reproductive health often focus on pregnancy and childbirth. But our health is important regardless of whether we want to have children,” Zoya explains. “Education gaps lead to shame and secrecy, which prevent honest discussions and better health outcomes.”

As part of a research project, Zoya examined the experiences of women diagnosed with PCOS and found that most delayed seeking help because they did not believe their symptoms required medical treatment. “Dismissing alarming symptoms can lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment,” she says.

After a series of posts on the topic of breast cancer, Zoya received feedback from a follower who had asked her doctor to perform a check-up after learning more about the issue through Zoya’s posts. “The cancer was caught early,” the person wrote, “I am now on the road to recovery.” This underscores Zoya’s goal to raise awareness and encourage people to make their health a higher priority.

Zoya doesn’t give medical advice, but takes an educational and engaging approach. “I think about what people my age want to know and what I wish I had known when I was younger,” she explains.

Countering misinformation

With the development of social media and artificial intelligence, the prevalence of false health information has increased sharply. WHO/Europe recognizes misinformation and disinformation as a serious threat and has published a set of practical guidelines for the population and national authorities on how to deal with infodemics.

“The most important thing is to understand who you are getting health information from,” Zoya emphasizes. “Ask yourself if this social media influencer or app is trying to help you or make a profit. Do they cite reliable sources? Are they qualified to share this information?”

Zoya advises people to check reviews and comments and think critically about references. Unlike doctors and scientists, those who call themselves health experts or gurus may not be accountable to anyone. “Be careful when seeking advice online, especially when it’s about your health.”

Support from WHO/Europe

The WHO/Europe 2023 assessment report on data and digital health in the European Region shows that digital solutions are being deployed and adopted unevenly. This means that millions of people across the Region remain unable to benefit from digital health technologies. This imbalance must be urgently addressed through targeted investments and by promoting digital health literacy among patients and health workers.

A previous WHO/Europe study found that women, particularly those from ethnic minorities, are less likely to have access to digital technologies, lack the skills to use them and are less motivated to engage with digital platforms.

The Digital Health Action Plan for the WHO European Region 2023–2030 aims to improve countries’ capacities to manage digital transformation in health care and promote digital health literacy.