By Ekta Tibrewal
For the longest time across geographies, men and women have been regarded as interchangeable subjects by the medical sciences especially in the realm of research and study. According to some estimates, only 4% of the overall funding demarcated for research and development of healthcare products and services is dedicated to women’s health. For decades, the design, development and delivery of healthcare products and solutions had ignored the fact that women’s bodies and hormone health are unique and different from men. The reality that women are 50% of the world’s population didn’t seem to have mattered. For many of the readers, it may be hard to believe that it was only in 1993 that the United States of America passed a law requiring research trials to include women! This predominant approach not only left out a major segment of the population but also created a vacuum by leaving an uncalculated part of science trackless.
Globally, with healthcare steadily becoming more individual-centric and personalised, it is the Femtech sector which has come to the forefront to make its delivery, its related services and curated offerings to be equitable across all encompassing elements. The global femtech market reached $707.6 million in 2021 and is expected to hit $1.15 billion by 2025, driven mainly by the demand from fertility, menopause and geriatric care (Source- Frost & Sullivan’s research- The COVID-19 Pandemic and a Rising Focus on Women’s Untapped Healthcare Needs are Transforming the Global Femtech Solutions Industry).
Before we applaud Femtech players for steadily changing the dynamics of the ecosystem, it’s extremely important to understand this space’s history- factors which for long have posed as roadblocks towards ensuring equity in health.
A big part of health equity translates to gender equity in health. Firstly, it’s not that we haven’t had healthcare companies focusing on women but for the longest time, the story would end with companies setting up a women’s health portfolio. Larger concerns around matters of accessibility, affordability, and societal taboos related to openly talking about women specific matters like menstruation, hygiene and hormonal health were often not addressed. These aspects in fact play an important role in putting forward personalised and curated health offerings. Secondly, in India a huge percentage of women still struggle to access healthcare resources. Thirdly, as a country we have grappled to ensure the presence of skilled resources on ground across the vast regional spread for the healthcare domain. Last but not the least, the pandemic acted as a mirror and revealed some striking gaps in women’s healthcare, highlighted the need for resilience, awareness and acted as a catalyst to push forward the need to build a more equitable system.
Against such a backdrop, Femtech digital platforms and mobile apps are leveraging technology infrastructure to cater to women’s specific health & wellness needs and addressing these shortcomings. Artificial Intelligence, machine learning along with next gen technologies like 3D printing, 3D sensors, enhanced imaging, and screening solutions are further fuelling the adoption of remote monitoring solutions and telehealth. Take the onset of Covid-19 in India as a case in point. Women residing in tier 3 and 4 cities along with those already suffering with chronic diseases, the elderly and expecting mothers were amongst the most vulnerable sections of the society. Through the digital dissemination of information, along with telemedicine, e-pharmacies, remote monitoring, digital healthcare devices as well as point of care support- this wide gamut of population were brought into care coverage during the period of the lockdown.
While India currently sees 61% of its population using the internet, it still leaves 39% of our large 1.4 billion population out of the equation. However, by providing digital healthcare access, India’s Femtech entities are enabling advanced, standardised, and same cost coverage to women, irrespective of their location, community or other considerations. Take for example, communities where women may not be allowed to venture out. Deeper penetration of telemedicine is connecting them to the best medical experts from within their homes.
Above all, to get closer to ensuring gender equity in health, Femtech players are empowering women, especially millennial Indian women to take charge of their own overall health. We are already witnessing a strong tide of change with not just Femtech ventures but also healthcare companies speedily acknowledging the need to better serve women- whether for their specific medical needs or bringing in gender specificity for devices and solutions common to both women and men. Urban millennial Indian women are fast embracing holistic, personalized curated programs and personalized plans- which are allowing them to better handle their individual health issues.
Digitalization is fostering collaboration that is expanding the frontiers of digital health research. We are the cusp of forthcoming innovations- solutions, devices and services wise. Together these are well poised to further propel the Femtech industry to offer even more convenient and hyper-personalised offerings.
However, there are miles to be covered.
Support from the Government in terms of investments will foster innovation and the growth of the tech-based healthcare ecosystem. The National Digital Health Mission intends to build the foundation essential to back the digital healthcare infrastructure. It could go a long way to digitally reconcile the gap among different stakeholders in India’s healthcare sector. Femtech entities together with health tech companies should leverage big data and analytics for identifying health trends related to women. The adoption of precision health could increase disease predictions, prevention and treatment rates. The needs of women professionals could be better addressed if Femtech companies partner with employer health insurance providers. Lastly, creating more awareness of Femtech’s current progress- from the driving factors which are increasing user adoption rates, enhanced patient perception coupled with encouragement towards better user engagement will immensely help this sector to reach its true potential.
(The author is the Co-Founder, savage. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of FinancialExpress.com.)