Merina Pradhan*1, Sophie Smith*2
1 Head of Content at Nabta Health, Kuwait
2 CEO and Co-founder at Nabta Health, Dubai
Disruptive innovation has been a guiding force in business for the past two decades since being formally recognized in 1995. Healthcare as an industry has been lagging behind in adopting this business model. The present healthcare system worldwide is mostly a combination of two business models – the “solution shop” and “value adding process” models. General hospitals and local practices have evolved from the former into the latter where medical procedures such as testing and minor procedures have been removed by several degrees from the physician in order to lower the prices (Christensen & Johnson, 2009).
The MENA region is rife with opportunities to exploit the above. The global digital health market is expected to boom in the coming years, rising from $80 billion in 2015 to over $200 billion in 2020. Between 2010 and 2014, the MENA region experienced a fourfold growth in early stage startup growth institutions (Altman, et al., unknown).
Digital health is particularly relevant in the GCC given its high smartphone penetration (Habner, 2017). For the healthcare consumer – be they a patient or someone looking to live a healthier lifestyle, the integration of smartphones and health has massive potential in terms of access to both curative and preventive medical services. The use of technology has been shown to improve clinical outcomes (Kiselev, et al., 2012), make healthcare more accessible at lower costs (Luxton, et al., 2011), and help in tracking the progression of treatment. Additionally, for the healthcare provider, new uses of digital health include: assisting general practitioners by providing alerts by smartphone or email, easy access to clinical guidelines and pharmaceutical information, checklists for clinical conditions, when applicable, to ensure efficient care, tailored patient health history, templates to help clinicians document patient history better, and most importantly providing diagnostic support through the use of artificial intelligence (USA.gov, 2012).
Women’s reproductive health is a key consideration in the digital health space as the privacy and community access afforded by a digital health platform is extremely valuable to its users. Sociocultural norms play a major role in determining how much access a woman has to healthcare and whether she avails it or not. Delays to a woman’s diagnosis and subsequent treatment is expensive – not just to the women but to the healthcare industry as well.
Moreover, infertility is on the rise. Despite increased population growth in the MENA region from the 1960s onwards, the average birth rate has decreased from 7.0 children per woman in 1960 to 3.3 currently (Roudi-Fahimi & Kent, 2008). This is a result of social factors such as a rise in the average age at which people get married, increased access to family planning services, and a growing rate of educated women (Roudi-Fahimi, 2006).
In addition to this, there are specific medical factors having a detrimental impact on fertility in the region. Diabetes and obesity are leading to a higher prevalence of PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome), which is characterized by irregular periods, increased facial hair, acne, and weight issues. 20-25% of the women in the Middle Eastern/South Asian region suffer from PCOS and it is one of the leading causes of infertility worldwide (Shawarby, 2016).
Male fertility is also on the decline. This is attributed to the high rates of smoking, diabetes, and pollution and has led to a boom in assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) in the region beginning in the 1990s. Since the advent of ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injections) in the 1990s, infertile men have been given a real chance at fathering children. This has improved the gender relation in the region as the onus of fertility is now being shared by both men and women (Inhorn, 2017).
Case in point is the innovation brought about in reproductive health by the fertility app, Nabta Fertility. Nabta aims to provide autonomy to women with regard to their own bodies and overall health and empower them to be able to make their own decisions regarding their health and the health of their children. Women from across the Arab World and emerging markets can use Nabta Fertility to understand their healthcare needs and take an active role in planning their fertility, pregnancy and neonatal care.
Nabta centres around providing support for women to better understand their reproductive health – from the unique fingerprints associated with their menstrual cycle, to coping with symptoms, to correcting potential fertility issues. Nabta's real-time fertility monitor, OvuSense, pinpoints ovulation with 99% accuracy and alerts women to potential fertility issues.
Nabta Health offers a comprehensive set of telehealth services to members of the Nabta community, including chat messenger consultations, appointment booking, video consultations and access to a 24/7 helpline.
Altman, W. et al., unknown. MENA's Health Startups, unknown: Wamda.com.
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Habner, J., 2017. GCC HEALTH 2.0: Tackling diabetes and obesity in an age of digital acceleration, Unknown: The Economist.
Inhorn, M. C., 2017. A Male Infertility Crisis Is Coming. The Middle East Can Help.. [Online] Available at: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/10/21/opinion/sunday/male-infertility-middle-east.html?referer=https://www.google.co.uk/
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Luxton, D. D., McCann, R. A., Bush, N. E. M. & M. C., &. R. G. M., 2011. mHealth for mental health: Integrating smartphone technology in behavioral healthcare. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, December, 42(6), pp. 505-512.
Roudi-Fahimi, F., 2006. Women's reproductive health in the Middle East and North Africa, unknown: Population Reference Bureau.
Roudi-Fahimi, F. & Kent, M. M., 2008. Fertility Declining in the Middle East and North Africa. Population Reference Bureau, April.
Shawarby, S. E., 2016. High rate of infertility due to PCOS. [Online]
Available at: https://fridaymagazine.ae/life-culture/people-profiles/high-rate-of-infertility-due-to-pcos-1.1689861 [Accessed 14 January 2018].
Statista, 2015. Global digital health market from 2015 to 2020, by major segment (in billion U.S. dollars). [Online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/387867/value-of-worldwide-digital-health-market-forecast-by-segment/ [Accessed 11 January 2018].
USA.gov, 2012. Clinical Decision Support (CDS). [Online] Available at: https://www.healthit.gov/policy-researchers-implementers/clinical-decision-support-cds [Accessed 11 January 2018].