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Hilal Her

Rise of Women-led Health Startups Within Pakistan

April 2024

In Pakistan, being mindful of the significance of women’s health is crucial because of its wide-ranging effects on personal wellbeing, family relationships, and societal advancement; a healthy mind and body is essential for women, as they directly impact their capacity to carry out multiple societal responsibilities effectively. Furthermore, prioritizing women’s health has a direct impact on the health of future generations. Healthy mothers are more likely to raise healthy children, disrupting the generational cycle of health disparities. Women’s health needs to cover various concerns, such as reproductive health, maternal care, nutrition, mental health, etc. The availability of proper healthcare services directly impacts women’s ability to make meaningful contributions to the economy, pursue education, and actively participate in their communities. Investing in women’s health can unleash the untapped potential of its female population, leading to inclusive development and societal progress.

The World Economic Forum report of January 2024 has brought attention to an essential yet frequently overlooked aspect of societal progress: Women’s health. The report, “Closing the Women’s Health Gap: A $1 Trillion Opportunity to Improve Lives and Economies” highlights the importance of addressing health disparities faced by women. By doing so, we can not only work towards achieving gender equality but also pave the way for economic prosperity. It is crucial to address the significant disparity in health outcomes between women and men, not only from a moral standpoint but also for economic reasons. This report highlights the significant economic benefits of investing in women’s health. It emphasizes that such investments can lead to a 1.7% increase in global per capita gross domestic product (GDP) and generate three times the economic growth for every dollar spent.
Women in Pakistan encounter a wide range of health challenges, including reproductive health issues and mental health concerns. These difficulties are often intensified by socio-cultural taboos and a lack of sufficient healthcare infrastructure. Numerous women live in remote regions where healthcare infrastructure is minimal or non-existent. Even those in urban areas may face a lack of healthcare services. Women in Pakistan face significant challenges in accessing healthcare, including cultural and social barriers that make it difficult for them to seek the assistance they need. Some women may hesitate to seek medical help, particularly for reproductive health issues, because of the cultural taboos surrounding these topics. In many cases, women are reluctant to seek advice and treatment from male healthcare providers due to cultural taboos. Women-owned and women-run health startups offer a secure environment where women can receive both in-person and online consultations without having to interact with men. 
In Pakistan, where women’s health issues had often faced neglect due to cultural, economic, and structural barriers, a new wave of innovation and empowerment is emerging through women-led health startups. These startups are not only addressing the unique healthcare needs of women but also challenging the societal norms by empowering female entrepreneurs and healthcare professionals.
Women’s health startups are addressing these challenges by offering specialized services and solutions tailored to women’s unique needs. For example, startups like Sehat Kahani provide telemedicine platforms that connect women with female healthcare professionals, offering privacy and comfort in seeking medical advice and treatment. By addressing taboo topics and providing women-centric healthcare services, these startups are breaking down barriers to healthcare access for women across Pakistan.

In a traditionally male-dominated industry, these startups provide women opportunities to innovate, create, and lead initiatives that cater specifically to women’s health needs. For instance, the founders of Sehat Kahani, Dr Sara Saeed Khurram and Dr Iffat Zafar Aga, pioneered a platform that addresses healthcare access and creates employment opportunities for female healthcare professionals. By fostering a culture of entrepreneurship among women, these startups drive economic empowerment and gender equality in Pakistan.
Women’s health startups in Pakistan are leveraging technology and innovation to offer various solutions for women’s health issues. From menstrual health apps to mental wellness platforms, these startups address diverse aspects of women’s health creatively and ingeniously. For example, Saaf Pind offers a mobile application that provides menstrual health education and tracking tools, empowering women with knowledge and resources to manage their reproductive health effectively. Similarly, Aksa Health is a telemedicine platform that focuses on women’s mental health, offering online counseling and therapy sessions for women facing mental health challenges. These innovative solutions are improving women’s health outcomes and promoting awareness and destigmatization of women’s health issues in Pakistani society.
Women’s health startups provide healthcare solutions and drive societal change by challenging norms and attitudes toward women’s health. These startups are reshaping cultural perceptions and attitudes toward women’s health by openly addressing taboo topics and advocating for women’s health rights. Moreover, by creating spaces for women to discuss and seek help for their health concerns, these startups are fostering a culture of empowerment among women in Pakistan. Through their advocacy and outreach efforts, health startups amplify women’s voices and promote a more inclusive and equitable healthcare system for all. Delineated below are some of the few noteworthy startups that are working for the betterment of healthcare system within Pakistan;
Sehat Kahani is a digital health startup that was established by Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram and Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga. This is a telemedicine platform that connects female doctors, often underutilized due to cultural barriers, with patients, particularly in impoverished communities. This startup offers cost-effective healthcare access and generates job prospects for female healthcare practitioners.
Amna Asif founded ReliveNow in an attempt to lower the cost and increase public access to mental health services. Amna took the initiative because she had experienced mental health issues herself. ReliveNow is an online provider of mental health solutions that offers affordable online consultations between individuals and psychologists and psychiatrists.
Dr Zainab Imam and Ehsan Imam founded Marham, a healthcare startup. Its objective is to connect patients and doctors using a digital platform, thereby reducing the distance between them. Although not limited to women-led initiatives, Marham has actively involved female doctors and patients by allowing them to have consultations, book appointments, and seek medical advice through its app and website. 
DoctHERs is a groundbreaking telemedicine platform founded by Dr Sara Khurram and Dr Asher Hasan. It facilitates the connection between female doctors and patients residing in rural areas. DoctHERs empowers female healthcare professionals and patients by utilizing technology to allow women to work from home and serve needy communities.
Girly Things is a mobile application founded by Tanzila Khan. As a person with a disability, Khan faces additional challenges when it comes to purchasing sanitary napkins from shops. The rationale behind developing the Girly Things mobile application was to enhance the accessibility of hygiene items in response to the persistent social stigma associated with menstruation.
Saba Khalid is the founder of Aurat Raaj, a social venture based in Pakistan that develops interactive and captivating technological products and services to inform and educate females about safety, cleanliness, and health.
The creator of ConnectHear, Azima Dhanjee, was motivated to assist the deaf population after witnessing how challenging it was for her deaf parents to interact with others. Through in-person and online training, Azima and her dedicated team are aiming to improve the understanding of sign language interpretation by deaf and mute people.
Women’s health startups are vital in transforming the healthcare sector and promoting women’s empowerment in Pakistan. By offering specialized services, empowering female entrepreneurs, and driving societal change, these startups are making significant strides toward improving women’s health outcomes and advancing gender equality. As these initiatives continue to grow and expand, they can reshape the healthcare sector’s landscape in Pakistan, making it more accessible, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of women across the country.

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