Breaking the taboo: Meet the Singapore-based startups that are working to provide access to sexual h
Reposed from e27.co
Reports linked the lack of access to sexual health education and treatment to many societal issues. These startups aim to change that.
In many countries in Southeast Asia (SEA), sexual health remains a topic that is discussed in secret –if it were ever being discussed at all.
This becomes a concern as many reports have linked the lack of access to sexual health education and treatment as a cause of many problems in the society, such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies. In fact, according to Dr Maria Tanyag in an article published by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, there is even a link between sexual health and reproductive issues with regional security.
It is mind-boggling to realise the impact of an issue that we do not even talk about. But the good news is that many organisations and individuals in the region have decided to take action on the matter, with some of them using technology as a platform for their cause.
In this article, we compile a convenient list of Singapore-based startups that are working to provide greater access to sexual healthcare:
Ease helps users get easier access to birth control and consultation. Image Credit: Ease
Launched in May, Ease is an online platform that enables users to purchase birth control pills and other contraception in a discreet and convenient manner. The platform also includes a telemedicine service that enables users to consult a medical professional.
As with many innovative startups, the founding of the company was inspired by the co-founders’ own experience, who had faced stigma or barriers when trying to access sexual and reproductive health services in Singapore. These experiences range from the long queue to uncomfortable encounters at the clinic.
“These experiences made us realise the significant barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services in Singapore and in Asia that exist due to prevailing cultural norms and an existing infrastructure which still relies on face to face consultations at clinics. As a result, people often do not get the help they need due to the stigma, time and cost involved,” Ease co-founder Rio Hoe explains in an email to e27.
“We realised that with technology, we could break down these barriers and revolutionise the ways in which these healthcare services are provided, such that users can conveniently and discreetly access these services from the comfort of their home,” he continues.
With their background in social activism, Hoe and co-founder Guadalupe Lazaro learned that in order to empower users, having access to medical services alone is not enough. Users also need a judgement-free space and community to share their experience and learn about sexual and reproductive health from experts, and this is something that Ease aims to provide.
The company said that it currently has over 5,800 members on its platform and is growing at 15 per cent rate each week, mostly organically. It is currently run a by a team of six and is funded through bootstrapping; Hoe writes that Ease is currently looking for new funding to support the next stage of their growth.
As their next steps, Ease wants to introduce other range of products and services such as at-home testing.
HPV screening kit as available on the Ferne Health platform. Image Credit: Ferne Health
Next, we have Ferne Health, a women-focused online sexual health platform that offers home-based self-test kits that screen for cervical cancer and common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Launched in September, the platform enables users to get test kits delivered to their discreetly. It also provides telemedicine consultation by appointment and a blog for educational purposes.
“From our initial research, we found that while a lot of people are worried about their sexual health, they find it difficult to learn more about sexual health topics, given the wide range of information online,” Xi Liu, the founder and CEO of Ferne Health, responds to questions by e27.
“As such, in addition to increasing the accessibility and reducing the stigma of STI screening services, we aim to be a knowledge hub to bring credible sexual health information which educates and inspires people to bring sexual health to the forefront. My greatest hope is for Ferne Health to be a key driver in transforming sexual health and empowering women to take charge of their sexual health.”
Currently operating in Singapore, Ferne Health plans to expand to neighbouring SEA countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia in 2021.
“In addition to screening kits, we are also exploring providing educational content on sexual health in these countries. One area I am looking at is developing and strengthening sexual education in schools. From our research, a lack of awareness is the key reason for poor sexual health care. We hope to break the taboo surrounding sexual healthcare and provide the resources for people to better understand their bodies,” Xi Liu explains.
The startup is currently run by bootstrapping.
Noah aims to address sensitive men’s health topics. Image Credit: Noah
While the first two startups have a stronger focus on women as their target audience, Noah covers topics related to men’s health that are considered sensitive: erectile dysfunction (ED), premature ejaculation, and hair loss. The platform was built based on the founders’ understanding of the difficulties that patients have to go through to seek treatment, from the embarrassment to the cost.
“We didn’t start Noah because we like going to the doctors,” says Sean Low, Noah co-founder. “Quite the opposite.”
Noah received its first patients in June this year; the platform only took six weeks to develop.
“In wanting to bring accessible healthcare to all men in Singapore, we created a simple three-step process for them to get the help they need. And unlike traditional providers, where patients are charged for both the consultation and medicine, there is only one charge on Noah. Noah members only pay for their medication if prescribed. If in any event that our doctors do not prescribe, they do not pay a single cent at all,” Low elaborated.
In the beginning, Noah acquires its users through digital channels, but it is looking forward to experimenting with offline channels. It has also gained traction through word-of-mouth.
“This is a testament to our outstanding Patient Support team. We try to be as present as possible for our patients and if it means answering questions about ED treatment at 3 AM, then so be it,” Low says, adding that this is something that has actually happened.
Noah says that it has grown 50 per cent month-on-month with its patient count in the thousands. It also said that 73 per cent of the patients are first-time patients for such treatment.
Run by a team of eight, the startup has recently closed pre-seed funding round; the funding was used to support user acquisition and scale operations. It is also looking to bring a full-stack development onboard.
In the next year, Noah wants to continue on building its existing services while expanding to other product categories.
“Just like our patients, our growth is only just beginning,” Low closes.
Original Post: https://e27.co/breaking-the-taboo-meet-the-singapore-based-startups-that-are-working-to-provide-access-to-sexual-healthcare-20201022/