June 20, 2024

Pulse Bliss

most important health challenges

FemTech: The destigmatisation in the industry

Josephine Ornago, owner at OutspokenPR, creates a four-part series to raise awareness for the femtech market. This series starts with the critical issue of the destigmatisation of the female reproductive apparatus in its entirety.

The femtech market is booming, and rightly so. At last the industry has realised that there is a vast untapped market that is not being suitably supported. In fact, there is a dearth of drugs for conditions that mainly affect women (since 1985 the FDA has only approved five obstetrics drugs out of 1,200), and studies confirm that medical devices may not have been sufficiently tested for efficacy and safety on women before their introduction to the market. As a result, women face a “disproportionate” risk with the insertion of various medical devices.

Supported by government impetus, the femtech industry is growing; the US launched an initiative to expand research on women’s health care in March 2024 and announced it has committed $200 million for research at the National Institutes of Health. The UK also launched a 10-year Women’s Health Strategy in 2022. The global femtech market size, which accounted for $40.2 billion in 2020, is now projected to grow at an average CAGR of 13.3% from 2020 until 2025 to reach $75.1 billion. In the UK specifically, the total funding of the femtech sector has exceeded £648 million but despite increasing interest the potential still remains largely untapped. In fact, in 2020, a meagre 1% of healthcare R&D funds went to female-specific health issues and between 2011 and 2021, only 4% of all new medtech approvals concerned female-specific health conditions.

There is clearly a gap between what is being provided and invested in and the needs of the market which represents roughly 50% of any population. To help bridge this chasm, and ensure that women are able to access technology that responds to their needs and femtech businesses access the funds necessary to invest in R&D, the industry cannot overlook the critical role of communications in raising awareness of female health issues with both public and investors. A change in mentality needs to be set in motion so that femtech innovation can easily win over the public and corral more investment. 

Specifically, I would argue that there are at least four areas of women’s health that need to be addressed now, not just to improve the lives of millions of women but also because they offer low-hanging fruit to businesses that want to invest in these areas. 

The industry needs to put consistent time, effort and messaging into: 

  • The destigmatisation of “lady bits” and what they do 
  • “Seeing” women’s pain 
  • Acknowledging the role of hormones and mental health 
  • Dividing the unhealthy combination health-appearance 

Over the next few weeks we’re going to take a comms perspective into what work needs to be carried out to make inroads in the public’s mentality subverting the status quo, according to which female health takes a subordinate role, to bringing it top of the agenda.  

Women in offices all over the country still surreptitiously sneak tampons up their sleeves, hiding the fact that should be evident anyway; that they are women of a fertile age that are menstruating.  

Femtech startups need to invest in creating a debate around periods, endometriosis, discharge, candida and sore nipples to enable consumers to discuss this with their friends, parents and colleagues with the same ease with which they talk about choosing a restaurant or would refer a good barber. If consumers are unable to discuss their choices, the debate is not alive and it is difficult for them to choose the best solutions, promoting innovation and competition. It is also critical that this debate should be medical, science based and propelled by the reach of digital media. 

Whereas the internet was previously largely being leveraged by non-medical experts to house niche websites that promote traditional rituals and mysterious concoctions, the rise of medical influencers with real qualifications and expert advice to give is finally democratising access to healthcare information that is of real value. Take Dr Simi Adedeji or Dr Karan who have follower numbers ranging well into the millions, highlighting there is an appetite among the public for solid scientific information, delivered in modern formats (like TikTok videos). 

This is just the type of content, easily digested and made for sharing, that will support the change in mentality required for women to speak up and ask for solutions. If women are still too embarrassed to talk about unusually heavy periods, extreme period pain, ovulation pain, painful sex, discharge and the like, the fault is with the system. The channels to drive these messages are now available and the appetite for them is clearly growing. We finally have access to knowledgeable people that can raise awareness of common and not so common intimate issues, and supporting demand for innovation that does not simply pad the issue (pun intended).  

My advice to femtech startups would be to embrace their mission and focus on their public, normalising talking openly about the female body, especially when things appear not to work as they should. Only by levelling the playing field and making it as commonplace to talk about periods as it is about runny noses, will it be possible to ensure that the femtech audience feels accepted, “seen” and catered to. With strong public interest in an idea, investors (male and female) will not take long to come knocking at your door.