Adaptation, development, and deployment of a chatbot to improve health literacy and care of first-time parents



Raising a newborn can be a challenging, stressful experience. First-time parents need to learn how to care, nurture, and support their child, but often lack the appropriate learning resources. Moreover, parents in African countries are at higher risk of losing their children to ill health due to inadequate medical care. And while there is a body of scientific literature on neonatal care, access to this information may be restricted and/or is written in an inaccessible manner for parents that are not proficient in scientific or technical literature. Lay articles are widely available, but it is challenging for parents to know whether the information is accurate or appropriate to their context. ParentCoach will start addressing the knowledge gap of parents and families, by democratizing neonatal care knowledge using a chatbot in South Africa and Portugal. Approaching the parents directly with a chatbot has the potential to support learning at scale, without significant costs, enabling also to reach parents that are further away from care professionals.

ParentCoach builds on Aurora, a Facebook Messenger chatbot launched in 2018 and designed to support new parents from pregnancy to the child’s 6th birthday. Aurora was launched in Portugal and has served more than 8000 users. The content of the chatbot is based on evidence-based literature and, through clear and accessible language, aims to support all issues that are common in early phases of infant care, minimizing exposure and escalation of symptoms, and providing evidence-based solutions to typical symptoms.

We will expand the focus of the Aurora chatbot to inform how to avoid certain health risks in South Africa (e.g., mother-to-child HIV transmission, malnutrition, and waterborne diseases), as well as to support better hygiene practices and promotion of appropriate child development. The accessible language, conversational interaction, and relevant content presented at the right time in Aurora, will ensure the understanding of public health and practical information for dealing with everyday parenting issues.

We will conduct user research and participatory design in Portugal and South Africa, using the interaction with parents, families, and clinicians to improve the system, develop more features, and adapt it to the South African context. We will have pilots in both sites, and will use these insights to learn about the differences and similarities between the different contexts, and how these impact research results.



Associação Fraunhofer Portugal Research (leader), Wits Health Consortium, AURORA Tech AI, University of Cape Town, Human Sciences Research Council.





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