How these sisters’ startup aims to help 110 million women in India manage Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
When Shobhita Narain was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) a few years back, she realised the journey ahead would not entirely be smooth.
“The diagnosis to PCOS itself took a long while, and there is so much information mismatch and asymmetry, and after all that running around, getting proper medical advice to manage my condition was another challenge. Even after trying multiple doctors, I felt like I was in the dark about how to manage my symptoms. It was so overwhelming that I didn't even know where to start, ” she says.
A regular conversation at the family dinner table with her sister Shashwatha Narain proved to be an eye opener of sorts - the duo strongly felt it was important to do something about the issue. “If one woman was facing this problem, we felt there might be many who probably weren’t even lucky to get a proper diagnosis of PCOS,” says Shashwata.
In 2020, the duo started Veera Health in Mumbai, with a strong focus on helping diagnose PCOS. The wellness startup provides evidence-based treatment and lifestyle coaching from gynaecologists, nutritionists and mental health therapists specialised in PCOS.
With their newly launched digital platform, the sisters hoped to make a difference to women by providing better access to quality healthcare with scientific and progressive treatments.
Shobhita is a student of Biology and Psychology from Tufts University, USA, with a background in healthcare. She has worked with leading healthcare companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Accenture Life Sciences and UnitedHealth
Shashwata was at McKinsey at the time, working in the consumer products / health space. “Our skillsets are extremely complementary, and we shared a similar vision around transforming the healthcare experience for women. We both felt that there’s nothing else in the world we’d rather be working on - this is impact in its truest sense,” says Shashwata.
Launched during the pandemic, the platform is completely digital. Veera Health has now raised $3 million in a funding round co-led by by Sequoia Capital India’s Surge and Global Founders Capital, with participation from Y Combinator, Cloudnine Hospital’s co-founder Rohit MA, Tinder India Head Taru Kapoor and other angels.
"Women's health is a large intuitive space, and this unique focused approach from team Veera has the ability to make a deep meaningful impact through early access, information, support and planning for not just detection but overcoming such health markers,” said Rohit.
The startup is on a mission to expand healthcare access for women, starting with treating 110 million women in India for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It already has over 10,000+ women benefiting from its education and services.
Veera Health offers patient subscription-based programmes. They offer a six-month plan, and for those who want to try it out and get an initial evaluation of their condition, they also offer a three-month plan.
The subscription includes access to a full team of doctors, including a dedicated gynaecologist, and unlimited chat with a PCOS-specialised nutritionist. After evaluating the current state of the patient’s condition, the team provides a personalised and holistic treatment plan that includes medical, fitness and diet recommendations. They then track the patient’s progress over time, keep her accountable and update on her treatment.
Each plan is customised based on the patient’s medical history, past interventions, and lifestyle preferences. A dedicated care manager also supports and tailors the experience for the patient through their journey.
"Unlike today, where most women struggle with the condition after a one-off visit with a doctor, Veera’s online platform is able to provide daily guidance and progress tracking over several months, increasing their chances of success,” says Shashwata.
She adds that close to 85 percent of Veera’s PCOS members report feeling in control of their physical and mental health within a month of treatment.
"The prevalence of PCOS in India is unfortunately enormous, making PCOS a natural initial condition for Veera. Within a matter of days, Veera Health can diagnose, treat and bring peace of mind to those women suffering from PCOS who otherwise would still be seeking help or wondering where to even begin”, said Sean Doolan, Partner at Global Founders Capital co-leading the investment.
He added, “Shashwata and Shobhita bring the requisite product pedigree, operational expertise, and lived experience to help Indian women suffering from PCOS. However, we believe Veera has the potential to eventually scale beyond PCOS, and ultimately address a breadth of diverse health conditions that affect all women.”
The virtual consultations allow women to be in touch with their doctors a lot more frequently than in-person consultations allow. Instead of traveling to a clinic, waiting for an appointment, taking time off work, the patient can chat with her gynaecologist and nutritionist from the comfort of her bedroom, as often as she needs to.
Especially when it comes to conditions like PCOS, women need longer term and continued support, anot just once-a-year consultations. That ongoing support is what telehealth is apt for, and will enable the team to transform the healthcare experience for women.
PCOS, a chronic condition, affects over 100 million women in India alone. It is a complex hormonal disorder that has a lot of different symptoms like irregular periods, weight gain, body hair and mood disorders.
If not treated in time, it can lead to serious issues like infertility, diabetes and even endometrial cancer.
“Despite this, 90 percent of women with PCOS say that existing treatment options do not work for them. Most women waste years and tens of thousands of rupees hopping between doctors, diet plans, gyms, and unproven supplements, without seeing any change in their symptoms. Over and above this, they struggle with stigma around symptoms like weight gain, body hair and the risk of infertility,” says Shashwata. Most of the data has been gathered by the team’s internal research.
The main challenge is the lack of accurate information about PCOS. A lot of myths surround this condition - a common one being that PCOS can be cured. But PCOS is like any other chronic condition, say diabetes or high blood pressure, that needs lifelong management because it evolves and changes over time.
Starting and stopping treatments every few months just does not work, and that is why PCOS symptoms tend to keep coming back, because it is a lifelong condition that requires longer-term commitment.
“Due to such myths, women end up undergoing trial and error with therapies that may not have scientific evidence behind it. So, we undertake a lot of the responsibility of educating women about PCOS and what works and does not work. Our doctors also spend a lot of time counselling patients and explaining things that may not have been explained to the patient before. The best part is that women are open to understanding the science behind it, and when they understand, they are more likely to be successful at their treatment,” says Shashwata.
Healthcare as a sector is growing rapidly. Some of the healthcare companies include - Pharmeasy, 1MG, and Practo, to name a few. Veera Health is focussed on women’s wellness.
Veera Health’s first route to expanding healthcare access is by targeting PCOS. While the common chronic condition purportedly affects one in five women in India, fewer than 30 percent are clinically diagnosed.
"We're starting with PCOS but there are a host of other conditions that women go through that we are considering expanding into. Our vision is to transform healthcare for all women, starting with PCOS that affects 100 million women in India alone. It’s a desperate problem in a massive market, and we understand it better than anyone,” concludes a confident Shashwata.