A contemporary, hands-on, and audacious approach that ties in access, data intelligence, penetration of conscious products, and awareness-building, can help ensure that India’s women get the healthcare and support they have a right to.
By Sairee Chahal
In the last year, nearly 76 million women members of self-help groups in rural India took up initiatives in their communities to help manage health and nutrition crises caused by the pandemic. They ran community kitchens, made masks, distributed ration kits and oversaw the growth of kitchen gardens, all while dealing with the loss of income, loved ones, and faced with debt. Women have pretty much been left to their own devices for survival.
India’s performance in hunger and healthcare indices is alarming, and women always face the brunt of it due to gender disparities. So, what would it take to transform the state of women’s health in India? Our healthcare interventions will need to factor in a spectrum of issues and emerging trends. Digital will obviously play a key role in bringing scale, innovation and accountability into the system, but how do we tie it all together? There’s a lot to be done but here are some touchpoints for consideration, for scalable impact.
Strengthening, scaling community interventions
Our ASHA workers have served as some of the most successful healthcare advocates to underserved women, while anganwadis or rural child care centres serve as the only access to health care, for millions of women in rural India. We must invest in strengthening, expanding and digitising our network of mobile health care centres and community clinics will help prioritise women’s healthcare and bring in more accountability. Digital training for our pool of approximately 9 lakh ASHA workers can turn them into data-driven agents of change. Let’s also invest in ASHA workers – and factor in better compensation and benefits, and scale the numbers of this grassroots army.
Betting on Femtech
Femtech is bridging some of the biggest gaps in healthcare for women, today. A slew of women founders is leveraging technology and innovation to deliver cost-effective solutions to common problems like PCOS, thyroid issues, sexual well-being, breast cancer, menstrual dysfunction and maternal struggles. eMedicine is already taking healthcare to women wherever they are, and research indicates that this intervention benefits women and marginalised communities the most. Several Indian startups are at the forefront of this revolution, and we need more investment to support innovation and scale in this space. This is no longer a niche market. A report from Research and Markets pegs femtech at a CAGR of over 13 per cent by 2026.
Penetration of conscious products
There is a growing awareness around the health, safety and sustainability benefits of conscious products. From ayurvedic interventions in intimate wellness and innovative contraception to sustainable menstrual products, conscious businesses are now building for scale and accessibility. This growing category will play a critical role in delivering superior women-first products. Many businesses are already experimenting with innovative pricing models to improve affordability for marginalised women. Women-led community marketplaces and self-help groups are playing a key role in the evangelisation of these products. But founders need more support in terms of capital, and a nurturing business environment that levels the playing field.
Making counselling accessible to all
Unlike in the US, mental health care in India is a counselling-led revolution. A slew of specialised apps has hit the market and counselling helplines already exist. But more professionals need to emerge from the system to balance demand and supply, while education and access must be made available to women everywhere. Self-help groups are a great space for counselling to find its way to the grassroots.
Building access to protection policies
The lack of medical insurance is a major barrier when it comes to delayed, or lack of medical care, and families are forced to dip into their savings to pay for medical care. This impacts women’s health the most adversely, as their health tends to be a lower priority in the family hierarchy. Leveraging digital to bridge the awareness and access gap, can help millions of under-protected women get access to health insurance, and be equipped to survive medical emergencies and long-term illnesses.
Prioritising Safe Sanitation
Despite national campaigns, toilet insecurity is a reality for millions of girls and women. Lack of access has a domino effect on overall wellbeing, manifesting in health conditions, assault and mortality. Girls need urgent access to menstrual education and products that prioritise health and safety. Hygienic toilets, running water and disposal bins, will keep them in school, and sow the seeds for better menstrual health.
The public and private sectors will need to work together to better tackle what could be a mammoth opportunity to transform the health of 48 per cent of our population. A wonderful example is the Delhi government’s telemedicine helpline that reduced stress on the medical community in the pandemic. A contemporary, hands-on, and audacious approach that ties in access, data intelligence, penetration of conscious products, and awareness-building, can help ensure that India’s women get the healthcare and support they have a right to.
(The author is founder, Sheroes and Mahila Money. The views expressed are her own and not necessarily that of Financial Express Online.)