Rendezvous with the geniuses behind the app

In a society, which is prescribed by stigma and socioeconomic constraints, most people in dire need of physical and mental healthcare end up being smothered by the taboo created as a result of the lack of awareness and knowledge? Maya.com.bd, in partnership with BRAC, has launched a unique android-based mobile app for women in Bangladesh called ‘Maya Apa.’ By logging in via their email address, women from both urban and rural areas of Bangladesh can discuss their health, legal and psychosocial issues anonymously. Let’s meet the tireless experts who work round the clock to give you the best of Maya apa.

Photographs by Kazi Mukul

Dr. Paramita Karim
Chief Medical Officer
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As a Chief Medical Officer, I answer queries and oversee the quality of answers that our Maya experts give to the users. This involves assessing Bangladeshi doctors’ approach to sensitive issues and training them on how to give out accurate medical information while also providing empathetic counselling. Having studied in the UK where there is a more open approach to controversial issues, I feel like I am able to help break down misconceptions, fears or concerns.

Most common questions you receive at Maya
I mostly receive questions like “how to increase chances of becoming pregnant?” and “what contraceptive options are available?”

Through Maya, what goals are you trying to achieve?
I think that Maya is a brilliant way for the public to connect with experts in order to gain knowledge, be empowered and make informed choices without feeling stigmatised.

Although Maya aims to create a safe virtual space for the masses, there are instances where people feel a certain sense of discomfort to share their problems due to the stigma attached to them. How do you address such situations?
This is totally understandable. Stigma has been created by the behaviour and attitudes of the society, which has been passed down from generation to generation. Hence, it will take some time to bring about behavioural change. We aim to create a community of experts who can make a user feel heard without being judged. We have answered over 100,000 questions in a short period of time. We also feature interesting questions on our website so other users can see the variety of topics that we address. This encourages people to open up to Maya Apa.

Minhajul Islam
Senior Software Engineer
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I work on the backend system that all the experts use to answer queries. Engineers play a vital role since we get queries round the clock, so the backend has to be working efficiently and effectively all the time. Being part of an inspiring Bangladeshi platform allows me to explore unique opportunities to improve my skills as an engineer.

What kind of IT support does Maya use to provide this sort of digital healthcare service to the masses?
The dynamic and efficient backend system allows experts to answer queries of the masses. Therefore, it is essential that the tech team and the expert team work closely together to provide a reliable and convenient system where both experts and users can communicate well. We endeavor to provide around the clock IT support as well as create new features to enhance our service while maintaining anonymity for our users.

Through Maya, what goals are you trying to achieve?
At Maya, I strive to create a unique and innovative product that is not only a source of inspiration in the tech world but also helps Bangladeshi people all over the country.

Dr K.M Abdullah Al Masood
Part Time Medical Expert
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I have always wanted to help people in remote areas who are unable to avail basic health care services and also those who can’t go to the doctor due to difficult socioeconomic constraints. Maya is the best platform to reach out to those people. When I get a query from a user who is in dire need of help, giving them advice through Maya is the most satisfying factor for us. When someone replies with a “thank you,” it melts the heart.
Most common questions you receive at Maya
I usually deal with medical queries like contraception, general health (fever, cough, backache etc.), sexual and reproductive health and dermatology

Through Maya, what goals are you trying to achieve?
Since I am going to be a Public Health Specialist, I think that providing people with a platform they can rely on and trust would be a great achievement for me at Maya.

Although Maya aims to create a safe virtual space for the masses, there are instances where people feel a certain sense of discomfort to share their problems due to the stigma attached to them. How do you address such situations?
We at Maya apa can assure complete protection of privacy since the experts don’t have access to the email or any other information of the user. We just see the questions and answer them. That’s how we ensure anonymity.

Monzia Mushtaq
(Psycho-Social Counsellor)
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My experience in this field is a huge self-testimonial to the fact that our society does not acknowledge the concept of mental health as they regard the diagnostics of any other human imperilments. Rather, to some people, it is still a case of stigma and sometimes indictment. I always wanted to topple this mentality of society and wanted to identify psychosocial support as a fundamental right of an individual. Maya, I believe, is a fantastic concept because it is a team that is on a mission to serve the people and have found ways to reach them. Moreover, their deployment of web technologies to cater their outreach gives me enough scope and confidence to reach out, probably to someone who has as much potential as I, to be something in life but he/she is hugely obstructed by social transgression.

Most common questions you receive at Maya
I get questions mostly on sexuality and people often feel hesitant to discuss such matters. As Maya is an anonymous messenger service, people share various issues they face regarding masturbation, porn addiction, trouble with female orgasm and anger issues. Since parenting is a big challenge nowadays, many parents also share how they struggle to communicate with their children.

Through Maya, what goals are you trying to achieve?
I am trying to eradicate stigma and misconceptions regarding the concept of mental health and spread awareness on the importance of mental health. Through Maya I try to build a community where people are comfortable to share their concerns.

Although Maya aims to create a safe virtual space for the masses, there are instances where people feel a certain sense of discomfort to share their problems due to the stigma attached to them. How do you address such situations?
Culturally, sometimes we are stigmatised with the term mental health. Across generations, the stigma of mental illness has often been far greater than the trauma of the condition itself. Even today, despite the greatest advances in neuroscience and psychology, the primordial fears around mental sickness are the biggest barriers in tackling the illness.
Since many people are still stigmatised about the concept of mental health, I offer a positive communication space, showing them respect and empathy through the kind of language I use with the users. It helps the person feel more accepted and safe to share their issues.

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Natasha Rahman

Natasha Rahman is the Assistant Editor of ICE Today. She enjoys the little pleasures of life, such as food and aerobics.