Dr. Roopan Gill’s Global Fight for Reproductive Access, Quality & Education

Around the globe, limited access to safe abortion, miscarriage, and contraception care are among the greatest health challenges facing women today. In response, Women’s College Hospital’s (WCH) Dr. Roopan Gill, Physician, Perioperative Services, remains steadfast in her mission to improve access, quality and education for this type of medicine worldwide.

Dr. Gill is the co-founder of Vitala Global Foundation, a Canadian non-profit with a mission to “Revolutionize sexual and reproductive self-care through co-designed, holistic, and localized digital solutions that meet women and girls where they are, empowering them to be agents of change.”

Named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women, receiving the Women of Courage award, and selected as an Aspen Ideas Health Fellow, Dr. Gill continues to be recognized for her work dedicated to improving abortion access and sexual reproductive health in challenging contexts. Most recently, she was interviewed by the BBC’s Business Daily on the research and implementation of the self-managed abortion companion app, Aya Contigo.

Aya Contigo is a digital sexual and reproductive health focused phone application that bridges self-managed abortion, miscarriage, and contraception care with mental well-being. Dubbed a “digital companion,” the apprepresents a trusted advisor who provides accompaniment and guidance as women are going through a process of self-managing their own care. By providing both the evidence-based information and psychosocial and emotional support, the 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.

Co-created with over 1,000 Venezuelan women and girls and a dozen grassroots organizations, Aya Contigo is meant to support women who have made – or are making – a decision to have an abortion in Venezuela. Amazingly, the app has already supported over 6000 women and girls in safely accessing quality abortion and contraception care.

Image of Aya Contigo App walkthrough reading: 

1. Guides: It's our decision. We're here to guide you and give end-to-end support
2. Supports: Your feelings are normal. Here are some tips. We're here on the chat for you. 
3. Connects: We have a network of trusted providers. Can we connect you to local resources?

“Venezuela has been experiencing a complex humanitarian crisis for almost a decade,” Dr. Gill shares in her BBC interview. “What that entails is it’s very difficult to access contraceptive methods, particularly pharmaceutical supplies if you are living in that country – they are either out of stock or very expensive.”

Venezuelan law stipulates that abortions are illegal unless they are needed to save the life of the person carrying the baby. The app walks the fine line of providing information while not breaking these strict reproductive laws, including providing medication to ineligible users. “The digital companion mainly works as a means for harm reduction for those needing access to information about obstetrics. The goal is to help avert unnecessary mortality or morbidity from unsafe abortions in the country,” says Dr. Gill.

Another challenge came in the form of funding for the app due to the current economic state in Venezuela. Requiring payment to access Aya Contigo was a nonstarter for Dr. Gill, so the Vitala Global team worked to fund the app through grants and philanthropic capital. As a result, the team was able to raise over one million dollars to develop and refine the app, allowing this service to be free to those who need it most in the country.

Today, the Aya Contigo team is setting their sights on other in-need markets and have recently secured a partnership with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, with funding allocated to user-testing the Aya Contigo App amongst Latina/x and Hispanic communities in the United States. The team is currently using the research findings to make adaptations to the digital companion to make it even more accessible – the app will be launched in a phased approach to the United States beginning in September 2023, with hopes for even further expansion in the years to come.

“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,” says Dr. Gill. “Our goal is to challenge 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 places where their reproductive rights are under attack.”

To read more about Vitala Global, visit their website here.