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Her body – not her choice: Technology’s role in the face of government conservatism


Her body – not her choice: Technology’s role in the face of government conservatism

“There is an ominous need to have differentiated care delivery for women owing to diverse physiology and their role in society,” writes Keren Leshem, CEO of OCON Healthcare

Keren Leshem | 08:40  07.06.2022

Last March, on International Women's Day, women all over the world called to #BreakTheBias, with a mission to “celebrate digital advancement and champion the women forging innovation through technology”. Throughout March, events across the globe have paid tribute to the contribution of women in society, and we used this opportunity to celebrate the gains made in women’s health technologies by and for women, and to reflect on ongoing challenges in women's health. This call came just weeks before a leaked document revealed the high court of the U.S. plans to overturn Roe V. Wade the court’s 1973 ruling making the right to abortion a constitutional right.

The U.S. is not alone. Women, and society at large, suffer from ignorance, taboo and misunderstandings surrounding women’s health issues and the ability of modern technologies available to them. The women’s health tech market still faces obstacles ranging from the underrepresentation of women in studies to the stigmatization of women’s health conditions. But the trend is starting to change.

Keren Leshem. Keren Leshem. Keren Leshem.

Women’s health is still a relatively young industry and femtech is still a growing space. There is an ominous need to have differentiated care delivery for women owing to diverse physiology and their role in society. It is imperative that solutions are designed specifically for women to improve overall healthcare outcomes. Israel with its excellence in life sciences and health technologies is becoming a leader in this space as well.

Despite slow progress in government and even the U.S. Supreme Court, medical start-ups have taken initiative. Based on IATI database, public information, IVC-Online Database, and Start-Up Nation Finder, there are about 200 Israeli companies in the various sub-sectors of women health and Femtech. The major sub-sectors are Women’s Cancer (35 companies), Pregnancy and Nursing Care (21), Fertility and Reproduction (19), Pelvic Problems (10), Women Infectious Diseases (7), Menopause and Menstruation (7) and the rest are for general diseases such as Diabetes, Osteoporosis, Genetics, and others.

As with technology for women, technology by women is also gaining momentum. But despite this growth, femtech companies currently command only a fraction of the technology pie—a mere 3% of health technology funding in 2020. Indeed, less than 2% of all venture capital is invested in women-led companies, according to Forbes, and global investment funding for women-led start-ups has decreased by 27% in 2020, compared with 2019, with only 0.64% going to women of color.

A recent study performed in Israel, examined the effect of heavy menstrual bleeding on daily activity and quality of life in young women soldiers engaged in demanding activities, concluded that underdiagnosis of the condition results from a combination of lack of awareness on the women's side and lack of attention from the system.

Although the most talked about, contraception is not the only issue impacting Women’s health.

Women spend around 10 years, or 3,500 days, on average menstruating, during which they might face discrimination followed by misinformation, fear, and embarrassment if in schools, in the workplace or even at home.

Women are disproportionately burdened by chronic conditions related to various reproductive health: Abnormal Uterine Bleeding, Endometriosis, Myomas/uterine fibroids are a few examples – yet education on these issues is scarce. Heavy menstruation affects one out of three to four women globally, and can lead to Iron-deficiency, Anemia that can affect mental health, relationships, and work. If left untreated, these common disorders can have a serious impact on women’s quality of life.

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Unfortunately, governmental decisions on access to women’s health services may hinder innovation and education. Current outdated technologies and traditional treatments can cause long-term side effects and second-line surgical techniques are invasive, costly, and not accessible to all women since they require hospital-settings and expensive equipment. In some cases, these treatments can sometimes lead to infertility, or even the removal of the uterus.

While investment in femtech is still a drop in the ocean, compared with funding for general public health solutions ($138 million in 2021 out of a total of $2.4 billion invested in healthcare and life science), new technology is shaping future policy in Women’s Health. This technology is making high-quality solutions available to women, IUD’s that are safe, minimally invasive with low to no side effects with a non-hormonal once-and-done treatment for women suffering from heavy menstrual bleeding, allowing women access to non-invasive in-office treatments and the freedom to choose.

Keren Leshem is the CEO of OCON Healthcare

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