PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY Bayer Philippines expanded the features of its Facebook chatbot Ask Mara, which answers women’s questions about contraceptive options and reproductive health, to provide telemedicine help for those who need expert advice during lockdowns and also locate nearby Mercury Drug, Watsons, Southstar, and Rose Pharmacy drugstores.  

“Ask Mara can help me get in touch with a doctor, locate the nearest drugstore, and even send me reminders. She gives us options, provides reliable information, and just enables us to make an informed choice,” said Inka P. Magnaye, voice talent and host of podcast Sleeping Pill with Inka, at the online launch of Ask Mara’s new features.  

For Filipino women, this kind of easy access to the right information and support can help in making informed reproductive health choices, she added, speaking as someone with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal syndrome that used to give her cramps, mood swings, migraines, and depression. These stopped when she started taking contraceptive pills.  

Knowledgeable patients result in better health outcomes as well, according to Dr. Marie Michelle A. Dado, a fellow of the Philippine Obstetrical and Gynecological Society.  

“In this pandemic where it can be difficult to get in touch with doctors and find options for contraceptive and reproductive health, these new features help take some of the worry out for women and let us focus on ourselves, on work and our family,” she said.  

According to the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), family planning services decreased by over 50% in March of 2020 due to limited staff at reproductive clinics.  

To address this, the commission set up hotlines for remote medical consultations and home delivery of birth control supplies, said Undersecretary Juan Antonio A. Perez III, POPCOM executive director, in a statement.   

They also worked with the Department of Health and the United States Agency for International Development to integrate age-appropriate sex education in the K-12 curriculum and strengthen information campaigns for responsible parenthood.  

Mr. Perez highlighted the need for solutions from all sectors: “While we have since built up systems for women to gain access to health services through a variety of channels, we need innovative solutions from both private and public sectors that champion women’s reproductive health choices and empower women to make informed choices.”  

Jillian Q. Gatcheco-Cantada, reproductive rights advocate and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Philippines, echoed the importance of having options.  

“It’s great that Ask Mara is there as a friendly resource for Filipinas who want on-demand advice about contraception and reproductive health,” she said. “It’s accessible, expert-driven, and most importantly non-judgmental.”  

The pill reminder feature, which ensures that women don’t miss their pill for the day, is also useful.  

Those who want to explore different methods of contraception, such as condoms and intrauterine devices, can get information from the chatbot as well.  

To chat with Ask Mara, visit facebook.com/AskMaraPH/. — Brontë H. Lacsamana