Femtech startups: Moving beyond activism to creating practical solutions for women’s health.

Three years ago, I began my PhD studies and when it came to choosing a thesis topic, I decided I wanted to investigate inequality in maternal, newborn and child health in low and middle-income countries.

This choice was a no brainer for me, as it was inspired by my first hand experience in clinical settings when I was in medical school: having trained in a developing country, I attended some Obgyn and Paediatrics clinical rotations that literarily brought tears to my eyes.

I saw how poverty would rob parents of their infants and newborn, when their babies succumb to preventable illnesses. I saw how men used their patriarchal position and societal power to subordinate and exploit teenage girls and women. Men got teenagers pregnant, pressured them to abort the baby through unqualified providers, and we had a constant flow of young girls with septic abortion and sepsis.

At the HIV clinic we were often caring for women and children who had no idea how they got the infection — it was usually traceable to partners who were breadwinners and as such these men did whatever they wanted, these men had multiple sexual partners and were simply unsupportive of their partners when they sought reproductive health care or paediatric care for the child. Most times, we were never able to get hold of the men for mandatory partner testing. The vicious cycle was never ending, and women and children bore the brunt of this toxic masculinity and subordination.

My PhD research project was conducted in Australia, using secondary data from developing countries. Midway into my project, I founded a Femtech company: venushealth.co . The decision to start this company was driven primarily by my lived experience in Australia.

As I began my research, which focused on low and middle-income countries, I saw another major frontier of women’s health need: we had our first child and in the lead up to the delivery I was certain all will be well as we were living in a developed country. I had attended some antenatal clinic with my wife and the GP had touched on all that was necessary. We decided to request epidural block to make the Labour process less painful, and I attended the anesthetist's clinic along with my wife, which went well and I thought we had it all in the bag.

Then finally came the D-day, and I saw an hospital system that was stretched thin, and understaffed, nurses and midwives that were simply mean and some were just there to complete their shift and earn the money. The epidural we requested never came, as the only anesthetist in the labour unit was busy with a Caesarian section. Luckily there were no major complications, as there was no sign of any obstetrician around, even though this was an Induced labour.

The postnatal period was another roller-coaster, there were two midwife home visits where they screened for jaundice, and did the heel prick sample collection and testing, and also checked how the mother was going. I certainly commend this community health service, as it is very crucial for maternal and child health and wellbeing during the postnatal period.

However, many other forms of support were conspicuously missing and thankfully some government authorities and private companies are starting to talk about some of these services. First and foremost, mental health and emotional support during the postnatal period is severely lacking. Evidence shows that majority of women will experience postnatal blues and many more will suffer postnatal depression, anxiety and sometimes psychosis. Postnatal mental health certainly needs to be front burner and should be integrated into the routine antenatal care.

I am of the opinion that Femtech companies need to begin evolving from an era of activism to a new era of innovation underpinned by scientific evidence, policy maker engagement, and disruptive solutions for the everyday woman and families (not just millennials). In saying this, props to Ida tin who coined the word Femtech. Kudos to the “right in your face” approach of activist-founders like Lauren Wang of Flexfit: who received investment by educating male VC’s on the millennial market for period sex. I certainly acknowledge the body positivity movement upon which many Femtech companies are also now hitching a ride. Without all of these efforts, we wouldn’t even have a sector called Femtech today.

Our mission at Venus Health Co. is to stand on the shoulders of these giants, that paved the way for the industry, and our mission is to be the company that is always there for women and families, when traditional providers end their support. For example, we want to be able to have our lactation consultant or midwife provide ongoing support for the average suburbia woman in Australia, after her two free government funded visits must have ended.

We want to be able to have a doula or massage therapist help with child settling, a child psychologist help sought our behavioural issue with a tantruming toddler. We believe all of these services can be provided under one platform and should never leave gaping holes in the family’s pocket. This is what Venus Health is all about.

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