These innovations from Indian startups are transforming women’s health for the better
Among the major inventions that changed the course of humanity – alongside electricity, fuel, and the internet - are condoms, and contraceptive pills. They helped women take charge of their bodies, and control when they want to start or grow their family rather than being helpless without a choice.
As time passed, more innovations came up in the women’s health sector. In the last decade or so, a few startups have mushroomed in India focussing on women’s health, whether it is pregnancy related, or for menstruation, or even breast cancer.
HerStory takes a look at how innovative ideas backed by scientific research have helped women cope with day-to-day physical struggles, as well serious diseases.
1. Ensuring safe labour/delivery
One can never be too careful during pregnancy. Maatritva, a mobile health platform for midwives, aims to prevent complications for expectant mothers, and enables safe delivery by identifying and tracking high-risk pregnancies. Midwives use the platform to record medical information of pregnant women in antenatal clinics after conducting tests. Women with high-risk pregnancies are referred to a high-level medical officer. The Nasik-based startup was founded by Pritish Agarwal, Abhishek Verma, and Garima Dosar in April 2017.
Before treatment, it is crucial for doctors to know the medical conditions of the patients. DocNMe is an app in which the doctor can type the patient’s name, and get information to effectively advise the patient regardless of her location. This women-centric healthcare app also allows the patient to port the data to another doctor if she leaves the current city. The app is also a guide for pregnant women and is like a diary to prepare them for the arrival of the child. It contains content and connects the patient directly with the doctor.
The app also doubles up as a reminder for appointments and captures the history of the care in the cloud. With this, women need not worry about losing their scans and prescriptions. However, the doctor still writes the prescription on a paper, which can be converted to digital information by taking a photo of the prescription and uploading it on the app. But some centres send e-mails to patients, especially lab reports, which Doc N Me collects and stores on behalf of the customer and the doctor.
Bengaluru-based Janitri Innovations also attends to mother and foetus/child care. Its product Keyar is a non-invasive cardiotocography (CTG) device to monitor the heart rate of a baby in the mother’s womb, as well as the uterine contractions of the mother-to-be. She wears it around her neck, and it extends out to a patch with five in-built, surface-electrode-based sensors. This patch is placed over the navel and transmits data to a mobile app, also developed by Janitri.
To help staff nurses track and share data in real time with doctors, Janitri’s app monitors the vital parameters of both mother and child in the womb ahead of delivery. Nurses can feed the data directly into the app, which then forwards it to the obstetrician to read on her mobile phone. It also puts out alerts when any critical indicators go too high or too low, and recommends next steps.
One such use case is in primary health centres that are not equipped to perform a C-section delivery. The centre can use the app to inform a referral hospital. This saves time and ensures faster treatment. From admission to discharge, it retains records of every diagnosis and action taken.
2. Breastfeeding made easier
Breastfeeding your child in public is almost unthinkable in India, not just because of the uninvited stares but also because of dust and pollution. Launched three years ago, ‘ILove9Months’ provides virtual and offline support to expectant and new mums through its mobile app. Besides a birth companion programme, it offers breast-feeding and lactation pods in public areas like restaurants, corporate officer, metro stations etc. Based in Thiruvananthapuram, and Hyderabad, it also offers premium home care support.
3. Pregnancy and motherhood
Platforms like PregBuddy and TogetherForHer provide the right information and care for expectant and new mothers online. PregBuddy provides personalised care to women, via health experts and doctors, from the preconception stage to the early years of motherhood. Its AI-enabled platform provides a continuum of care between expectant mothers and doctors.
TogetherForHer is an online community that provides quality reviews and guidance, helping women make confident decisions about their choice of a maternity hospital. It also offers videos of medical care along with articles on post and pre-maternity.
4. Period tracking
Whether it is avoiding pregnancy or planning it, a tracker on your phone helping you with your period cycle is a blessing for most women. Apps like Maya (launched by Bengaluru-based startup Plackal Tech) track your menstrual cycle to help track related symptoms, mood swings, and overall health. Users need to track their mood, physical symptoms and also note other details like weight, basal body temperature, extent of blood flow, etc. The app helps the user make sense of this collated data by providing tips and by keeping track of the current cycle.
5. Sanitary napkins with organic cotton
A National Family Health Survey (NFHS) survey last year found that 62 percent women in the 15-24 age group use cloth for menstrual protection in India. The rest, who would turn to sanitary napkins, are unknowingly contributing to a huge waste disposal problem (since the pads have plastic content). Moreover, many women suffer from rashes and itching due to the chemicals in the pads they use. Startups like Carmesi, Nua, Heyday, Purganics, Saathi, and Azah provide environment-friendly pads with organic cotton content to avoid health problems.
6. Menstrual Cups
If you are one of those women who often forget to buy sanitary napkins in time for their period, or feels that pads are burning a hole in your pocket every month, menstrual cups are for you. It lasts up to eight years or more, thereby controlling waste generation as well.
Startups like Trucup and Boondh are taking earnest efforts to remove the taboo on period and associated practices, and spread the use of menstrual cups which are made of silicone and are barely felt once inserted into the body.
7. Breast cancer detection
Although efforts to spread awareness on breast cancer have a long way to go, two startups in the healthtech sector are taking a huge step for diagnosis.
Bangalore-based Niramai’s AI-driven solution Thermalytix uses a high-resolution thermal sensing device that scans the chest area like a camera. This is done remotely, which means that it affords women privacy. It is also contact-less, so there is no touch involved. The thermal scan is then read by Thermalytix to detect any early signs of cancer. It is also far more affordable than conventional methods and does not require heavy equipment, making it ideal for use in smaller cities and towns.
Cognitive psychotherapist and scientist Shadi Ganz developed India’s first fully equipped mobile breast and cervical cancer screening bus in Tamil Nadu. The Mammomobile was designed with different compartments containing machinery imported from the US to be able to diagnose patients and deliver instant results. There’s a section for conducting mammography and a control room to get the test results. It also houses a section to examine women for cervical cancer. The results are immediately checked by a team of doctors at The Cancer Institute in Chennai.
UE LifeSciences, a mobile health technology startup, has built iBreastExam, a portable and radiation-free device that can be used in virtually any setting. It performs bilateral breast examinations and produces results within five minutes while detecting lesions with sensitivity higher than 85 percent.
8. Pee like a man
PeeBuddy is an easy-to-carry, disposable tunnel-shaped paper urination device that ergonomically fits between the legs to enable women to stand and urinate, thus avoiding any contact with dirty common toilet seats. It even helps women with posture-related diseases and restrictive conditions like arthritis and pregnancy, respectively. The same startup has also launched India’s first herbal period pain relief patch, a proprietary Ayurvedic formulation.