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Femtech at the forefront

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COVID-19’s devastating impact on women’s health has put the spotlight on femtech to shape a healthier future.

Women’s health has often, sadly, been considered underserved, underfunded, and insignificant. Currently, the global femtech (female technology) industry is at a nascent stage but growing faster than before, shared Suchismita Das, Industry Analyst, Transformational Health, Frost & Sullivan, in an interview with Omnia Health Magazine.

Femtech includes software, diagnostics, products, and services that use technology to focus on women’s health. The industry is no more a “niche” sector – it is becoming mainstream. It is catching the attention of medtech and pharma companies, but the momentum has been a little slow, stressed Das. However, the good news is that in the coming years the global femtech industry is projected to grow at a much faster pace.

In the Gulf countries, the UAE is well-positioned in prioritising women’s health and has the potential to be the leading example, globally as well as for other Middle East countries, emphasised Das. “Not only is the UAE well equipped to handle all types of women’s health needs and issues, but it is also witnessing the global paradigm shift from its focus on women’s reproductive health to other unaddressed feminine needs,” she said.

With menstruation, fertility, and pregnancy care occupying the first three ranks in the growth trajectory, menstruation, mental health, endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic health, PCOS and thyroid issues will be the new growth avenues for femtech. The global femtech market is poised to grow at a CAGR of ~11 per cent till 2025.

According to Das, healthcare, medtech and pharma companies can partner with femtech start-ups to provide better prediction, prevention, and post-treatment benefits. With big data and analytics, health tech companies can document health trends and create huge databases. Enhanced with Artificial Intelligence (AI), these databases can be beneficial for clinical decision support (CDS).

Reportedly, government and many public and private organisations globally have rigorously been investing in femtech over the last few years, which eventually will drive the market growth. Several start-ups functioning in the industry are focusing on developing innovative solutions to improve women’s quality of life. This area now needs even more focus due to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on women’s health.

Das highlighted: “During the pandemic, women’s health worldwide suffered intensely, right from increased mental health issues to a surge in unwanted pregnancies and stillbirths. One of the major observations had been the global rise in pregnancy rate – both planned and unplanned/unintended pregnancies. Globally, there were nearly seven million unintended pregnancies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But all these pregnancies didn’t result in successful childbirths as there was an unusual rise in the stillbirth rate. Miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth complications inevitably led to a surge in women’s mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in pregnant women or new mothers.”

Secondly, homestay during the pandemic aggravated women’s mental health across all ages due to increased domestic work. For instance, it was not easy for women frontline healthcare workers as they were exposed to increased risk of contamination. Fear of being the virus carrier forced many to stay away from their families, leading to an increase in depression and anxiety disorders in those who had pre-existing conditions. Also, violence against women increased considerably and has become a global public health concern.

“However, on the other side, the pandemic proved to be “a blessing in disguise” as it triggered the industry’s shift towards women’s issues such as PCOS, fibroids, thyroid issues, endometriosis, pelvic health, and menopause,” added Das. “We have seen a major transformation in the supply side of femtech. Many women-led companies started evolving with innovative devices, apps and/or services to address these issues. Further, we witnessed increased adoption of “at-home” solutions and services such as telehealth services.”

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Suchismita Das

Telehealth: A shot in the arm

Increased adoption of telehealth services, even in femtech, has been a gamechanger in boosting women’s health solutions.

“Due to the pandemic and rise in the pregnancy rate, women were asked to stay at home. Unlike elective surgeries, which could be postponed, telehealth adoption became the most viable option for many pregnant women,” explained Das.

Similarly, for fertility care, pre-menopausal and menopausal care, telehealth truly came to the rescue. Telehealth adoption increased and became the most preferred mode for consultation and increased demand for more profound and enhanced tools such as improved remote monitoring platforms, AI-backed diagnostic solutions, and others to make remote visits/consults more meaningful.

According to Das, in the next few years, it is expected that telehealth would transform the healthcare industry, including the femtech sector, majorly by adding newer and effective innovations. Other breakthroughs include AI to improve IVF success rates, 3D printed biomaterials for breast reconstruction in breast cancer survivors, telemedicine consultations with prescriptions, anti-radiation wearables for pregnant women, genomics for fertility tracking, and others.

Tackling bias

The femtech industry still suffers from barriers such as gender-biasedness, lack of education and awareness amongst end-users and clinicians, socio-cultural stigma and taboo, and lack of clinical evidence. To address these issues, industry players have started taking measures.

For instance, to address the issue of gender-biasedness, shared Das, increasingly more women-led femtech start-ups, and dedicated femtech focused VCs and angel investors are emerging. The majority of femtech start-ups are women-led, following the “for women, by women” movement. Similarly, Venture Capital (VC) firms such as Portfolia, Avestria Ventures, Rhia Ventures are some well-known women’s health investors who are pioneering the upcoming surge of femtech innovations. Angel investors’ such as Aletta Angels, SoGal Ventures, Halogen Ventures, are also joining this movement.

Additionally, many femtech start-ups have taken up the onus of educating women about their own body, needs, and problems. Moreover, making gynaecologists aware of new solutions and services to replace the traditional, less effective ones is also a task taken up by them. For example, Germany’s Super Izzy AI and Australia’s MyMoonBox are two such start-ups that educate women about their reproductive health and better understand menstruation and PMS issues.

Medtech and Pharma industry’s interest in the femtech sector is also growing. Moreover, governments and organisations of different countries are actively introducing initiatives and reimbursements for women’s health to improve their quality of life, she added.

In conclusion, Das said the rise of the movement “for women, by women,” in femtech has been long overdue, and it is “remarkable to see how femtech women are opening/funding their start-ups, creating innovative solutions and awareness at the same time. Over the next few years, femtech’s potential would cease to be an expectation and would become the reality.”

The key mantra to achieve the above, she added, would be to be competitive and differentiate. Solutions need to be unique in terms of addressing women’s health issues. This would open up new avenues of growth and help in getting easy and quick funding from investors.

Das recommends companies to provide affordable, personalised holistic care for women of all ages and not be restricted to fertility/pregnancy care. Specially curated programmes, specialised services, and personalised plans are the way forward.

She concluded: “With the help of extensive research and innovations, femtech demands innovation-led devices and solutions that can improve and enhance women’s health across all stages of their lives.”

This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today, covering femtech, AI, IoT and much more.  

TAGS: Innovation
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