Women’s Health: On The Cusp Of A Revolution?
In this Women's Day Special issue, Lakshmipriya Nair explores the growth potential, challenges and white spaces in the women's health segment as it evolves and advances
Considered as a mere subset of healthcare, women’s health has often been overlooked and underserved. Studies inform that modern medicine was developed with male physiology in mind and as a result, women have been underrepresented in clinical trials too. Social and cultural taboos that limit and hinder conversations on sexual and reproductive health have also acted as barriers to women’s health.
However, in the recent past, we have been witnessing a gradual shift, leading to the creation of an ecosystem which is more conducive to women and geared towards their better health outcomes. Novel products with superior routes of administration are being designed and launched specially for the female physiology.
Reenita Das, Partner, Senior VP, Healthcare and Life Sciences, Frost & Sullivan informs, “The market for female health products has received a wave of publicity recently. There is strong momentum in the larger market toward the ‘Sheconomy’ and the impact of women as consumers and commercial entities. Because of this wave of social trends, the focus on women’s health is center stage today.”
Expressing similar views in an earlier article covered in Express Pharma, titled, ‘Is Women’s Health Gaining Momentum, Suchi Ray, Partner, Deloitte says, “In today’s times, pharma companies in the women’s healthcare space are expanding their R&D base and increasing the efforts to expand beyond reproductive health into key women’s health areas.”
The industry seems to agree with these views. Yash Singh, Founder & CEO of Frimline, a company which recently launched a toothpaste specially designed to address oral issues of women, explains, “Addressing the unique healthcare needs of women has been gaining traction. The industry too is more conscious of the trend now.”
Winds of change
There are strong tailwinds spurring progress in this segment. A report from Fortune Business Insights informs that the India women’s health therapeutics market is projected to grow from $2.22 billion in 2022 to $5.98 billion in 2029, at a CAGR of 15.2 per cent in forecast period. While there are several factors contributing to the evolution of this segment, some of key drivers of this transformation are:
◆ Growing health awareness among women: A changing mindset led by education is helping women break taboos surrounding their health and enabling them to seek diagnosis and subsequent treatment for their illnesses at the right time. Women are now learning to prioritise their health and create a demand for healthcare products and services that are better suited for their well-being.
Singh outlines, “There is a growing awareness on health and well-being among the Indian women resulting in a rise in the demand for products that can help address their health issues. Even in the daily lives of women, there is significant opportunity to introduce self-care products that positively impact their well-being. For example, we recently launched Dente91 She, India’s very first toothpaste designed exclusively to address oral issues of women. The correlation between various hormonal changes women go through their lives, and its impact on women’s oral health is not widely known. This prompted the inception of product.”
◆ Advancements in R&D: A report from McKinsey on ‘Unlocking Opportunities in Women’s Healthcare’, states, “A suite of scientific advances can now be harnessed in women’s health. Recent advances in genomics, tissue engineering, and cell and gene therapy are ushering in a new wave of healthcare innovations that can be applied to underserved female-specific conditions. For example, researchers are studying transcriptomics (the study of all RNA molecules in a cell) for treating otherwise elusive conditions such as preeclampsia or preterm birth. Others are now using tissue engineering to create uterine organoids in order to push the knowledge frontier on endometriosis. The potential is vast to redefine a host of conditions, including endometriosis, preeclampsia, and unexplained infertility, and to achieve advances to the degree that researchers are already achieving with oncology and immunology. Investors, researchers, and companies alike have an opportunity to participate in this rising wave of innovation and to deliver a new era in women’s health.”
◆ Rise in FemTech: FemTech, a word to describe tech-enabled solutions addressing women’s health, has a gained a lot of prominence in the recent times. A report from McKinsey called, ‘The dawn of FemTech revolution, reveals, “FemTech’s current market size range from $500 million to $1 billion. Forecasts suggest opportunities for double-digit revenue growth. On the digital health front, FemTech companies currently receive three per cent of all digital health funding. In our scan of hundreds of FemTech companies, we found concentration in maternal health patient support, consumer menstrual products, gynecological devices, and solutions in fertility. Funding reached $2.5 billion by early December 2021.”
Express Pharma’s article on ‘Is Women’s Health Gaining Momentum’, also quotes Arvind Sharma, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co, who says, “With 50 per cent of the population as target customers, and with the women’s healthcare market expected to reach $50 billion by 2025, FemTech is the key focus area in the women’s health market, and this is the right time for pharma companies to increase presence in this sector. In this tech-dominated scenario, connected devices and mobile applications will provide key and timely solutions to women. New business models such as telemedicine and remote monitoring platforms will emerge and are expected to play a key role in the women’s health segment. There is a lot of potential in the women’s healthcare segment in India, and this will attract top global investors.”
Das from Frost & Sullivan enlightens, “Trends toward using digital technologies for monitoring, prevention and personalisation through apps or digital devices are becoming commonplace. Patients are getting empowered about their health and starting to use online forums and chats to get information. There is the emergence of a new woman who is highly influenced by social media. In fact, 80 per cent of all decisions that women make today are driven by social influencers.” FemTech is definitely bringing about a revolution in women’s health.
Existing and emerging companies have begun expanding their offerings to cover a wide range of women’s health issues like menstruation, skin and hair care, PCOS, mental health, sexual health, reproductive issues, fertility and pregnancy.
Let’s take a look at some of the subsets where we are seeing phenomenal growth:
◆ Feminine hygiene and menstrual health: A report by Mordor Intelligence predicts that India’s feminine hygiene market witness a CAGR of 14.7 per cent over the next five years. As per market analyses, rising awareness about intimate hygiene and innovations in menstrual products like sanitary pads, tampons and panty liners, are contributing towards the growth of feminine hygiene market in India. Government initiatives to promote menstrual awareness among women and adolescent girls have also helped.
As a result, a lot of newer entrants in this segment such as Avni, Milder Cares, Nua, Padcare, The Woman’s Company etc. Leading brands are also entering and expanding their offerings in this space. For instance, Cipla unveiled ‘Evexpert’, its range of feminine hygiene products in March last year, while FMCG major Dabur forayed into this space with its new brand ‘Fem’ inZ December 2022. Piramal Pharma also forayed into the feminine intimate care category in 2021. Existing products like J&J’s Stayfree and P&G’s Whisper have also introduced product variations and innovations to deal with growing competition.
Sujata Pawar, Co-founder & CEO at Avni, a feminine hygiene and menstrual healthcare startup, shares more details about the growth drivers in this space. She points out, “Over the last decade, the feminine hygiene market has experienced consistent growth. The key growth drivers are increasing female literacy, rising disposable income among women, growing awareness of intimate health issues, and better access to menstrual products. The acceptance and prominence of new-age sanitary products have also contributed to the elimination of many menstrual taboos.”
“The availability of safe and affordable menstrual and reproductive products reduces their risk of infection. This has the potential to have a cascading effect on overall sexual and reproductive health, such as lowering teen pregnancy as well as aiding in maternal decisions, and reproductive success,” she adds.