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‘No more cute mentorship programmes’: femtech community reacts to Women’s Health Strategy

Femtech entrepreneurs have expressed concerns over the government’s lack of clarity around the 10-year strategy

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Women in the femtech community have reacted to England’s Women’s Health Strategy, amid fears that the government could be using the initiative as a “short-term vote-winner”.

Femtech entrepreneurs have asked for more innovation support, warning that a failure to provide enough funding could hamper the ambitions of the strategy.

The women have told Femtech World that the UK government should be held accountable to ensure its commitment to tackling health inequalities goes beyond “mere election-year rhetoric”.

The Women’s Health Strategy, developed and published in 2022, aims to address longstanding gaps in the health and care system.

The initiative seeks to improve care for menstrual and gynaecological conditions, expand women’s health hubs and accelerate research.

While many women’s health organisations have welcomed the plan, women in the femtech community have raised concerns about the government’s lack of clarity.

“It’s good to see the government prioritising women on their agenda, but I don’t see specific numbers,” Hélène Guillaume, founder and CEO of the training and nutrition app Wild AI, told Femtech World.

One in ten women in the UK suffer from endometriosis and go undiagnosed for an average of seven and a half years. I’d like to see a commitment to reduce that to six months.

“I’d like the government to make including women in research compulsory, as 80 per cent of the medical research is still done on males – I’d like to see them pledging actual funding on this.

“We need more funding commitments to innovation. The government could and should play a role here too by investing in women. No more cute mentorship programmes, but actual cash.”

Valentina Milanova, women’s health expert and founder of the gynaecological start-up Daye, said: “It is crucial to hold Sunak’s cabinet accountable to ensure their commitment goes beyond mere election-year rhetoric.

“To significantly improve gynaecological health in the UK, the government should focus on increasing both public and private funding for innovations related to vaginal, menstrual, hormonal and reproductive health, which is currently shamefully low.

“Before Brexit, British start-ups, universities and researchers had access to funding from the European Innovation Council (EIC) through their venture capital investment scheme, which could provide successful applicants with up to 15 million euros for research and development.

“Rejoining the EIC venture capital program for R&D is a concrete step the current government can take to demonstrate its commitment to addressing the gender gap in healthcare and medicine by increasing funding opportunities in this underdeveloped field.”

Although the UK government has promised to use the strategy to “reset the dial on women’s health”, many femtech entrepreneurs feel that they are still being kept in the dark about the plan.

“From the pledge, it is unclear how the strategy will improve the overall state of women’s health,” said Jasmine Tagesson, co-founder and COO of Hormona. “There is so much to do and so many areas to improve.

“As a company that focuses on hormone health due to its massive impact on women’s overall health, we hope that the government doesn’t forget to look at the bigger, underlying issues that impacts women’s health.

“Hormone health is closely tied to the issues highlights, such as painful periods and postpartum issues and as such, we hope that the government will provide support for start-ups such as ourselves so that our efforts can help further research into different areas of women’s health.”

Dr Bryony Henderson, GP and associate medical director at Livi UK, said: “While this announcement is a positive step forward, it is essential that the strategy be comprehensive, adequately funded and inclusive of diverse perspectives and experiences.

“I urge the government to ensure that initiatives address the intersectional nature of women’s health, prioritise accessibility and equity and foster collaboration among healthcare providers.

“Long-term commitment and ongoing evaluation will be crucial to effectively address the complex and varied needs of women, while ensuring that every woman is given the fundamental right to make decisions about their body.”

She added: “In implementing the strategy, it is important to address gaps in the healthcare infrastructure, particularly in underserved areas. Ensuring equitable access to quality care, including specialised services and treatment options, is vital for improving health outcomes and reducing disparities.

“While research is essential, I would like to see preventative care and health promotion initiatives prioritised to empower women with knowledge and tools to maintain their reproductive health. This could include education on healthy lifestyle choices, regular screenings and preventive measures to reduce the risk of disease.”

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Cleveland Clinic launches new women’s health and research center

The programme aims to address women’s unique health needs during midlife and beyond

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From left: Cleveland Clinic CEO and president Dr Tom Mihaljevic, Maria Shriver and Dr Beri Ridgeway / Source: clevelandclinic.org

Cleveland Clinic has launched its new Women’s Comprehensive Health and Research Center, an initiative dedicated to helping women during midlife.

The center, which will focus on access, connectivity, education and research and innovation, aims to empower women to navigate their health journey with confidence and clarity.

Maria Shriver, founder of The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement Prevention and Research Center at Cleveland Clinic, will serve as chief visionary and strategic advisor.

“I’ve always believed our nation needed a first-class comprehensive women’s health center, and now we have one,” said Shriver.

“Over the past several years, I’ve been honoured to work alongside so many talented and passionate doctors at Cleveland Clinic to bring this vision to life. This is a place for women at every stage of life where they will feel seen, will get the research they need, and the care they deserve, from their brains to their bones.

“I am thrilled that today the WAM Prevention and Research Center expands, as it deserves to.”

Dr Tom Mihaljevic, Cleveland Clinic CEO and president, said: “Maria’s unwavering commitment to raising awareness and driving meaningful change aligns perfectly with the mission of our new center.

“Her passion for advancing the quality of care for women is remarkable and will help us transform how we deliver care for women today and into the future.”

The population of women in midlife and in need of healthcare continues to grow. According to US Census Bureau 2020 data, more than 63 million women in the US are 50 years of age or older, and approximately 6,000 women enter menopause each day.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 80 per cent of women aged 55 and older have at least one chronic condition, such as arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes, which strengthens the need for more comprehensive medical care for women in this stage of life.

The new Women’s Comprehensive Health and Research Center will bring together specialty care in various areas, including behavioural health, breast health, cardiovascular care, center for infant and maternal health, endocrinology, menopause, osteoporosis and metabolic bone density, wellness and disease prevention.

Through initiatives focused on streamlining appointment processes, enhancing outreach programmes and prioritising health equity, the center will seek to ensure that all women can readily access the care they need.

“Midlife is an important milestone and a time to empower women to address health issues and focus on future health,” said Dr Beri Ridgeway, chief of staff at Cleveland Clinic.

“Taking a holistic approach, including menopausal and hormonal health, reproductive health, mental health, chronic conditions and preventive care, is critical to optimise health outcomes.

“Our priority is to help women in this stage of life make educated decisions about their health and have access to the services they need to thrive, while also feeling seen, heard and supported.”

The center, Ridgeway said, will offer support groups and resources to help address health disparities, reach diverse communities and bridge gaps in health literacy.

The institution’s ultimate mission, she explained, is to advance research and innovation specific to women during midlife.

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Firm secures US$1.9m grant to support women entrepreneurs in Africa

eha Impact Ventures aims to support women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises

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Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at eHA Impact Ventures / Source: evelyncastle.com

The impact investing enterprise eHA Impact Ventures (EIV) has been awarded a US$1.9m grant from the non-profit organisation eHealth Africa (eHA) to support women entrepreneurs in Africa.

eHA’s board of directors approved the donation as part of its effort to “strengthen” healthcare delivery systems and support vulnerable populations.

The grant, the organisation said, will be deployed to “upscale” women-funded companies to improve the health and wealth of African women, their families and their communities.

The donation is hoped to address the US$42bn funding gap for women entrepreneurs in Africa and help female founders have better access to funding opportunities.

In addition, the funds are expected to support health interventions like the pre-screening of cervical cancer and improve delivery of blood and blood products to healthcare facilities.

“The grant will be instrumental in boosting the economic capacity of women across Africa by supporting high-impact women-owned businesses,” said Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at EIV, who founded the firm in 2021.

“Furthermore, it will [help us] upscale funding, mentorship and training programmes to help women create thriving businesses that drive economic growth in their communities.”

My Le, board executive at eHealth Africa, said: “These donations could not have come at a better time as  women continue to struggle to meet up with both health and economic demands. Thus we are optimistic that the funds will go a mile in bridging fiscal gaps for women and other vulnerable groups to lead healthier lives.

“Supporting women will go a long way in not just improving their societal impact but also contribute immensely to sustainable development especially in the African region.”

Recognising women’s “vital” role in building strong health systems, Atef Fawaz, CEO of eHealth Africa, added: “We acknowledge the profound impact women have in strengthening healthcare systems, aligning with our vision at eHealth Africa.”

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Menstrual product wins innovation award in Switzerland

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser

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Penelope Finnie, chief executive officer at Egal

Pads on a Roll, a menstrual product that can be dispensed in public stalls similar to a toilet paper roll, has won a prestigious award at the Women’s Health Innovation Summit Europe in Basel. 

Each year the Women’s Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) helps promising start-ups raise their brand awareness and pitch their solutions in front of investors and industry leaders.

Egal, the company behind Pads on a Roll, has been honoured with this year’s Women’s Health Innovation award after the WHIS selection committee recognised the start-up as an innovative company poised to disrupt the European women’s health landscape.

“Egal Pads is so honoured to have been chosen for the Women’s Health Innovation award,” Penelope Finnie, Egal chief executive officer, told Femtech World.

“The other nine finalists were amazing companies run by wonderful people. The whole conference was a testament to the importance of the femtech movement.

“For us, it was particularly exciting as the EU is the next market we are focusing on. We hope that having period products available in stalls just like toilet paper is, will become the norm as it is necessary for equality.

“We also hope that by winning, it brings attention to this easily solved but long ignored issue,” Finnie added.

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser.

Egal aims to sell Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools

Each roll contains 40 pads and can be placed directly in stalls, unlike the typical tampon dispensers that often require money to access the products and are located outside the stall.

The pads are less expensive to maintain than products in vending machines because they are easier to refill, and require less space and packaging.

Research shows that 20 percent of girls in the US and UK have missed school due to lack of access to period products, with more than 90 per cent of menstruators having experienced jammed, broken or empty dispensers in public toilets.

Egal aims to solve this issue by selling Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools.

The Boston-based company has done pilots at various universities across the US and is hoping to develop a flushable version of the product in the future.

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