Young people have questions. They don’t always get answers. Argentina’s answer to that? A new kind of website.
This year's Lollapalooza Argentina. Image by Leonardo Samrani/Flickr.
With a new digital approach to youth health, Argentina hopes to avoid a repeat of the challenges that followed its difficult sexual revolution.
At a time when half of young Argentines don’t use condoms properly, over 40% have sex before age 16, and a third lose their virginity without contraception, officials concluded that a latent education problem could soon lead to a resurgence of the country’s HIV/AIDS epidemic from decades past.
The result is Hablemos de Todo, an anonymous on-request question-and-answer service provided by Argentina’s Ministry of Social Development. The idea is that experts can provide important information to sexually mature youth with a knowledge deficit or reasons not to ask adults in their lives.
Starting off as a Buenos-Aires-focused site focused on sexual health, the current government has taken the program nationwide, covering topics that range from bullying and suicide prevention to drugs and disorders. As is to be expected with online resources, this one has attracted attention outside Argentina. So far, the site has logged 500,000 users and plans to add 24/7 expert availability next year.
Measures passed in 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2012 built a legal framework that moved gender identity, contraception, and sexual health to the center of federal and state education and public campaigns. The relative sea change has led traditionalists in Argentina to push back against such a pointed intervention by the state into the country’s version of the culture wars.
But the primary importance of the initiative remains centered around keeping HIV/AIDS rates low. In 2009, the World Bank observed that levels stood between 100% and 200% higher among Argentinian youth than among their peers in Chile and Uruguay — numbers that reflect young peoples’ struggles with rebellion and identity against the Peronist regime that ruled Argentina with a military and repressive edge.
Coming out of that experience, with the changing of generations, Argentina’s government eventually passed a series of laws designed to reduce HIV transmission and to change the way sexual identity and practices were treated. In another study issued in 2015, the World Bank noted that the government’s “early decision to convert HIV/AIDS access to treatment to a public good” drove antiretroviral therapy coverage to almost 80%, the World Health Organization standard for universal coverage.
As is also to be expected with online ventures that draw an audience, the platform could likely inspire other countries to adopt similar programs that focus on their own particular goals and priorities. As the 21st century unfolds, the symbol of a democratic government could look less like an anonymous voter casting a ballot and more like an anonymous citizen gathering curated information.