Feature story

Meet Marlo: the go-to source of information about HIV

29 March 2019

Discussions about sex and HIV in Indonesia remain highly taboo, while the limited information that exists is often unclear, not easy to digest or contradictory. That’s why many young people are turning towards new technology platforms to seek answers to questions that affect their health and well-being. 

In an attempt to improve the quality of information provided to young people, the UNAIDS Country Office in Indonesia has developed Tanya Marlo, or Ask Marlo, a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence and designed to be the go-to source for all things HIV-related.

Marlo is a cute character who provides basic information about HIV through user-friendly content such as infographics, quizzes and FAQs (frequently asked questions). In just a few taps, Ask Marlo users can also book HIV testing appointments at health centres across Jakarta, Indonesia. Young people looking for a more in-depth chat are connected to real counsellors, who are on standby to talk, provide guidance and make referrals to specialized services.

The counsellors receive many questions on how to access HIV services and HIV treatment.

“Many people, particularly young people, in Jakarta still do not know basic information about HIV. I hope that as a counsellor on Marlo, I can change that,” one of the counsellors said.

The Ask Marlo chatbot is integrated into the LINE chat messaging application. Users looking to chat to Marlo can simply add @tanyamarlo on LINE and begin chatting. Indonesia is one of LINE’s top markets, with around 90 million users. Around 80% of its users are young people, many of whom use LINE Today to get news and information and to shop.

Since launching on 1 December 2018, Ask Marlo has increased the number of its users, reaching almost 3000 followers at the end of March. Reviews of Ask Marlo bear witness to how important and necessary the service is for young people.  

Upon seeing Ask Marlo for the first time, a psychology graduate from the University of Indonesia said, “It is so youth-friendly! My friends and I use LINE a lot, so this is the perfect platform for Ask Marlo. I am surprised that a chatbot can be used to teach about things as complex as HIV.”

A university student at the Atma Jaya University likes the anonymity provided by the application. “With Ask Marlo, we don’t have to be ashamed to ask anything related to HIV.”

University students, young professionals, communities, civil society activists and the Ministry of Health have endorsed Ask Marlo. Besides students and young professionals, several social media influencers and YouTube personalities have also given their stamp of approval. Their endorsement of Ask Marlo has helped to promote the chatbot to wider audiences. The idea is to eventually expand to offer testing in other major cities across Indonesia.