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Femtech must acknowledge the risk of perpetuating medical racism, say campaigners

Campaigners have warned that health tools could overlook women from marginalised communities

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Femtech must address medical racism, campaigners have warned, amid concern that the sector could be perpetuating long-standing racial inequities.

Femtech is already showing promise to help clinicians make better diagnoses and support women with managing their health.

But as excitement grows, campaigners have warned that these powerful tools could overlook women from marginalised communities and perpetuate long-standing racial inequities in how care is delivered.

“Any technology meant to help people track and improve women’s health outcomes must be inclusive and anti-racist,” Dr Regina Davis Moss, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice, told Femtech World.

“Black women have historically been disregarded, overlooked and undermined by the medical technology industry. It is past time for our interests and needs to be prioritised in clinical trials and other forms of scientific research.

“Femtech companies must ensure that their research and clinical trials equitably involve communities of all backgrounds.”

Around 2,000 femtech companies and apps have sprung up in the last decade to address women’s needs, including tracking apps, fertility solutions and menopause platforms.

These new tools are often built using machine learning, a subset of AI where algorithms are trained to find patterns in large data sets like billing information and test results.

The data these algorithms are built on, however, often reflect inequities and bias that have long plagued the healthcare system. Research shows clinicians often provide different care to white patients and patients of colour. Those differences in how patients are treated get immortalised in data, which are then used to train algorithms.

“When our research omits subsets of the population, the accuracy and potential benefits of that research do not extend to those who disproportionately bear the burden of disease,” said Dr Monique Gary, breast surgical oncologist at Grand View Health.

“We are seeing already how AI can harm marginalised communities, where biased algorithms require racial or ethnic minorities to be considerably ‘more ill’ than their white counterparts to receive the same diagnosis, treatment, or resource. This is perilous and avoidable.”

To create responsible and equitable technologies that include BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour) women, Gary said companies could start identifying and recruiting experts of colour, via pipeline programmes and incubators.

“We need to start listening to, believing and supporting the voices of Black women,” she said.

“In 2024, women of all ages and races, ethnicities and orientations are telling us out loud what they need to actualise a better version of healthcare which incorporates significant tech utilisation. It’s now up to us to listen.”

Ashley Jones, creative director of Tones of Melanin, said femtech must acknowledge the risk of perpetuating medical racism and prioritise inclusivity.

“Companies in femtech should actively seek out diverse perspectives and experiences, particularly from BIPOC women, in both their datasets and research.

“This includes collaborating with BIPOC brands, stakeholders and organisations to ensure that their products address the specific needs and concerns of BIPOC women.”

Tech developers, Jones said, could address racism by implementing robust diversity and inclusion initiatives within their teams, actively seeking out BIPOC voices in decision-making processes and educating themselves on the unique experiences of BIPOC women in healthcare.

Sylvia Kang, co-founder and CEO at Mira, pointed out that femtech companies should also focus on affordability, as cost can be preventing women from marginalised communities from accessing healthcare.

“Most of the people that can access femtech tools for their health are white mid-to-high income women,” Kang explained.

“Unfortunately, there are some communities, including BIPOC that do not have enough resources to purchase these tools.

“I believe it’s our responsibility to take action and democratise our data and tools in specific ways.”

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Menopause start-up bags US$60m in funding

Midi Health aims to expand access to insurance-covered care for women in midlife and beyond

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Midi Health Series B round investors and founders, pictured from left: GV Executive venture partner Cathy Friedman, Midi Health co-founder Kathleen Jordan, Midi Health co-founder Jill Herzig, Felicis Ventures general partner Victoria Treyger, Operator Collective founder Mallun Yen, Midi Health co-founder Sharon Meers, Midi Health co-founder and CEO Joanna Strober, Emerson Collective managing partner Fern Mandelbaum, SemperViren partner Allison Baum Gates, GV general partner Frederique Dame

The US menopause start-up Midi Health has secured US$60m in funding, bringing the company’s total funding raised to date to US$100m.

The funding round was led by Emerson Collective, with support from additional investors, including GV (Google Ventures), Memorial Hermann, SemperVirens, Felicis, Icon Ventures, Black Angel Group, Gingerbread Capital, Able Partners, G9 and Operator Collective.

They joined a syndicate of primarily female-led investors including F7, Steel Sky Ventures, Avestria, Muse Capital, 1843 Capital, Anne WojcickiSusan Wojcicki, and K50 Ventures.

Founded with a mission to close this care gap, Midi is now the fastest-growing virtual clinic focused on treating women in perimenopause and menopause.

The California start-up, which expanded to all 50 states in November, aims to help women navigating midlife hormonal changes.

The company provides patients with care plans that include hormonal and non-hormonal medications, supplements and lifestyle coaching and has partnerships with major healthcare systems, such as Memorial Hermann and benefits platforms, such as Progyny and Cleo.

The additional investment round is hoped to help Midi expand insurance coverage, hire and upskill an additional 150 clinicians, diversify service lines, amplify the conversation around women’s health and scale to care for over one million women per year by 2029.

“We started Midi with just one specific focus: helping women access world-class, expert perimenopause and menopause care, covered by insurance, and we have been at the forefront of delivering on that promise,” Joanna Strober, CEO and co-founder of Midi, explained.

“But what we have also learned is that addressing the health concerns of women in midlife is more complex than simply treating hot flashes and prescribing hormone replacement therapy.

“Midi takes a multi-symptom, holistic approach to care designed to help women live their best, most productive and fulfilling lives—whether that involves medication, lifestyle coaching, natural supplements, or other support.

“Our goal now is to expand services and scope to continue this comprehensive, personalised care far beyond menopause.”

Women spend more than a third of their lives in perimenopause or menopause, with more than one billion women globally expected to be in these life stages by 2030.

Upwards of 85 per cent of women will experience menopausal symptoms that can negatively impact their productivity and quality of life, yet 75 per cent of women who seek care for these symptoms do not receive any treatment.

The primary reason is that only about one in five OB/GYNs, and even fewer primary care physicians, receive specialised menopause education or training.

“Historically, women’s healthcare has been neglected, with perimenopause and menopause having significant unmet needs,” said Fern Mandelbaum of Emerson Collective.

“Midi is providing expert, empathetic care coupled with comprehensive insurance coverage, finally addressing this gap and ensuring that all women receive the support they need and deserve.”

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Start-up launches London Underground campaign to break down period stigma

The two-week campaign seeks to challenge societal taboos surrounding menstrual health

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The Irish women’s health start-up Riley has launched an ad campaign on the London Underground to “take the fear out of periods”.

Riley, an eco-friendly period product subscription service, aims to take action against period poverty and democratise access to period products.

The company seeks to encourage the introduction of menstrual health policies and foster a workplace where discussions around periods are normalised.

Its two-week London Underground campaign, which coincides with the opening of its first office in London, is hoped to help destigmatise periods and normalise conversations around menstrual health.

“The idea behind this campaign comes from the fact that free period care in the office is often seen as an employee perk or a ‘nice to have’, when it should actually be an essential offering in every office,” Meaghan Droney, eCommerce manager at Riley, told Femtech World.

“Our aim with this campaign is to flip those current mindsets and get people to change their attitudes towards period care in the workplace.

“With 79 per cent of menstruators feeling unsupported in relation to their periods at work, this oversight is clearly fundamentally unfair and it’s time for change.

“We’re encouraging any and all businesses to get in touch with us so we can support them in introducing menstrual policies and free period care in their workplace to empower all employees, no matter their gender, to thrive and feel valued at work.”

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that only 12 per cent of UK companies provide support for menstruation and menstrual health, despite 85 per cent of women experiencing stress or anxiety when managing their period at work.

Data suggests that half of the women who take absence because of their menstrual cycle feel unable to tell their manager, underscoring the deep-rooted stigma around periods.

Fiona Parfrey, co-founder of Riley, said: “Access to safe and high-quality sustainable period care products not only demonstrates a commitment to employee welfare but also fosters a culture of empathy, equality, and respect, ultimately contributing to a more engaged and empowered workforce.

“Menstrual policies and free period care are a fundamental necessity for every individual in the workplace. It’s about ensuring that employees have the resources they need to maintain their wellbeing and productivity without interruption.”

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Singapore-based fertility centre sets up grant for couples struggling to conceive

This grant aims to support eligible Singaporean couples facing financial and family planning challenges

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A Singapore-based fertility centre is to set up a grant to support couples struggling to conceive.

Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore (VFCS) announced that it would set up a grant to support aspiring parents on their IVF journey.

The initial grant is set for at $50,000 SGD and, depending on the take-up rate over the next 12 fiscal months, VFCS plans to increase the pool to benefit more couples in the subsequent years.

The grant will cover the main costs associated with IVF treatments and procedures, including embryo retrieval and transfer, laboratory services and embryo prep. It will also be applicable to fresh and frozen egg transfers.

As grant recipients, their samples will similarly be given a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, a service VFCS provides for all its patients. It locks the patient’s identity with the respective sample. The RFID identifies gametes—eggs, sperms, or embryos—at every stage of the IVF treatment.

According to VFCS, the grant will also include access to counselling services and wellness resources.

“I’ve witnessed firsthand the emotional toll and occasional frustration that infertility can take on individuals and couples, especially for some who are still young and healthy,” said Dr Roland Chieng, medical director at VFCS.

“The common deterrent of going for fertility treatment is always associated with the cost, more so in a private care setting where their only source of funds is through Medisave.

“By alleviating their financial concerns, we hope ReadyBaby Fertility Grant empowers patients to approach their IVF journey, focusing on their clinical needs and working towards a healthy pregnancy and less on financials.

“With access to the necessary treatments and support, patients can embark on their path to parenthood with renewed confidence, knowing they have the clinical resources and guidance they need to navigate this journey,” he added.

Tim Kwan, VFCS’s managing director, said: “We believe every couple deserves the opportunity to experience the profound joy of parenthood.

“With the ReadyBaby Fertility Grant, we aim to support aspiring couples on their IVF journey and help them bring new life into the world.”

To be eligible for the grant, applicants must be married Singaporean couples diagnosed with medical infertility by a fertility specialist and first-time parents who have not tried IVF before.

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