'Femtech and women’s health issues have become more mainstream. We must do more though'

Navigating the obstacles of reproductive health life stages can be a challenging journey for many women that is often shrouded in taboo. Femtech has played its part in bringing women’s health into the mainstream since it was coined by Ida Tin, founder of menstruation app Clue. Female coders, makers and engineers have played a significant role in designing health apps that provide a more tailored and personalised service to women, as well as bring awareness to topics that are typically shied away from. Providing women with better digital health support has shown to have a positive impact on health outcomes and this has been demonstrated further by the vote of confidence that investors have shown to this relatively new field of tech. 

MobiHealthNews spoke to Lina Chan, founder and CEO of Parla, who will be speaking at the HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Digital Event at the Women’s Health – beyond period tracking session, and Alison Byrne, FGM specialised midwife at Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS trust & University Hospitals Birmingham NHS trust, who is a finalist in the 2020 European Kate Granger Awards. Both provided insights on ways to highlight resources and tools that bring awareness to women’s health and wellbeing.

Bringing awareness to FGM 

Byrne is one of the first FGM specialist midwives supporting women from across the UK to prepare for pregnancy and birth, manage complications and achieve natural births following FGM. She is an advisor to midwives from across the UK and has created specialist training for midwives on recognising and managing the perinatal period for women with FGM. 

Alison Byrne recounts how her work as an FGM specialised midwife began: “FGM is a very specialised area. So it there’s not many of me around. The reason that I started doing this was way back in 2002, where I was working as a midwife on the delivery suite and a lady presented herself with FGM. 

“Nobody knew what to do to help her as nobody knew anything about it at the time. As a nurse, I’d never had any training. I’d never even heard of it.

“My colleague and I decided to look into it. I started a specialised service at the hospital. Since the growth of awareness around FGM, the service has grown exponentially,” explained Byrne.

According to the most recent NHS annual report on FGM, there were 6,590 individual women and girls who had an attendance where FGM was identified in the period April 2019 to March 2020. These accounted for 11,895 total attendances reported at NHS trusts and GP practices where FGM was identified.

Byrne explains: “There is an NHS pilot that’s going on at the moment where Birmingham was picked as one of the pilots because of the high numbers of FGM.

“It’s one of eight clinics that I’m running and it’s more of a big health centre than a hospital. The idea was for non-pregnant women to be able to access help and support right then instead of coming to the hospital, a lot of ladies don’t like to come into the hospital.”

Byrne also highlighted the importance of training and education around the topic: “The one thing I really encourage is multi-agency between the police, education, health, and that they have mandatory FGM training.

“It’s important to make people aware of the fact that we are living in a world where it is still happening. It’s not something of the past. It’s up to us to raise awareness and educate professionals and communities to try and stop it.”

Closing the gap with femtech 

Femtech can be used to tackle the lack of awareness and open discussion around women’s health, however, another problematic component faced by women is the mishmash of tools, advisors and educational resources provided, which as a result can make it challenging to pick the most effective care route.

Lina Chan from Parla explains how technology can close this gap: “Technology can really help close this gap in access that we see in the health market – especially now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology can help connect women with mental health experts more easily and also enable women to access the right educational information when needed.

“There are a number of femtech businesses as well as mental health start-ups that are helping tackle this problem.  From companies helping women in similar life stages connect with each other like Peanut, or those connecting mental health experts with users digitally like Talk Space and fertility apps providing holistic support like Parla.”

Chan also highlighted the actionable ways to bring awareness to women’s health issues and removing accepted societal taboos: “In recent times we have seen femtech and women’s health issues become more mainstream. We need to continue to do more.

“I hope that in the near future women’s health problems will no longer be taboo, women can be more proactive about their reproductive health and a whole-body approach to health is the norm.”

Learn more at the Women’s Health session at HIMSS & Health 2.0 European Digital Event taking place on 10 September at 16:00-16:45. 

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