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Taking a Stand on Women’s Health

A panel at MD&M East discussed the issue of women, especially those in the developing world, being underserved when it comes to medical technology.

In developing countries there are numerous road blocks that prevent women from getting quality healthcare or care at all. On Wednesday, a panel at MD&M East in New York, spoke about some of the challenges these women faced and how medtech companies were addressing these issues.

Matthew De Jonge, Head of Product at Butterfly Network Inc; Matt Campisi, Co-Founder and CTO at UE Lifesciences; and Kevin White, Executive Director at Global Vision 2020 discussed innovations for this patient group.

Marissa Fayer, president of Fayer Consulting, served as the moderator. Fayer is also CEO of HerHealthEQ, which is a global nonprofit focused on women’s health in developing countries linking medical devices to women who need them most.

“Women around the world play a primary role in caregiving and often shouldering the burden of tending to their families and communities,” Fayer, said during the panel. “So as logic goes improving women’s lives should ultimately benefit the greater population. But yet women, especially those in the developing world, are really underserved when it comes to medical technology.”

She noted that women make up 52% of the population and 85% of the population lives in the developing world. Yet most of the innovation created is developed for the other 15%.

The panel described how they addressed issues with women in the developing world. DeJonge kicked off the conversation, discussing the Butterfly Network’s efforts.

“In short, what we’ve done is take a high-performance large-scale ultrasound machine, which can cost up to $200,000, and put it on to a semi-conductor platform,” De Jonge said. “This has allowed us to shrink [the ultrasound technology down] and make it much more affordable … and it connects to an iPhone and to an Android device.”

The product is for sale in the U.S. and the firm recently received CE mark. He noted the company had physicians as part of its global health program which it is doing in tandem with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to put this in the 50 poorest-developing countries.

Campisi then spoke of UE Lifesciences’ efforts and noted the firm had a focus in helping treat women with breast cancer. The Philadelphia-based company has developed a technology called the iBreast Exam.

“Breast cancer has become an epidemic not only in the U.S. and western world, but also in the developing world, where most of our diagnoses in breast cancer are coming from,” Campisi said during the panel discussion. “The incidents are rising and unfortunately in the developing world - unlike the U.S. – the mortality rate is upwards of 50%. So most of our cancers are being detected at a very late stage.”

The iBreast Exam is a battery-operated wireless machine that records variations in breast elasticity. The technology is hand-held and allows clinicians to perform breast examinations in five minutes, anywhere.

“What we have done is develop a device that specifically meets the constraints of the developing world in terms of being able to be operated by a social health worker; and in terms of being financially reasonable at the cost of less than $2 per breast scan,” he said.

White rounded out the conversation explaining Global Vision 2020’s role in developing countries.

“What this device does is allow the patient to turn the dial and change the prescriptive power of their lens,” White said. “Much like a pair of binoculars it moves that focal point back and forth across your retina.”

White noted that 55% of the people affected by reflective error are women and 66% of the world’s blind are also women. He noted a negative perception of women wearing glasses contributed to the lack of adoption.

“You might think, why is that,” White asked the audience. “Women in the developing world are in those environments that impact sight the most. A woman in the developing world is very reluctant to wear eyeglasses, because she is seen as if something is wrong with her – where young men are seen as intelligent if they wear eyeglasses.”

White added, “Our goal is to increase eyeglass access to everyone, but we really have a lot of things to focus and adapt the way implement programs so that women and young girls have those same educational opportunities; experience the same safety when they’re walking down the highways; and have the same quality of life as all of the people and all of the patients that we deliver eyeglasses to.”

After the panel, Fayer spoke with MD+DI about some of the roadblocks that prevent women in developing countries from getting quality care.

“It’s getting the women to the clinic, Fayer told MD+DI. “A lot of times they say they have to go to a friend’s house and they go to the clinic. They can’t afford the money to not go to work, yet she’s going to die prematurely because she has something so treatable and curable. There are some cultural issues and roadblocks associated with it. It’s also getting access to care and quality care.”

Fayer, added, “I think what’s really important is getting some of this technology into the developing world. These women would love to be treated and love to be cured. These doctors would love to do the work; however, they just don’t physically have it.”

She noted there need to be more women in the spotlight advocating for women’s health and said that more men like those on the panel need to be champions for care.

“There’s starting to be more women – I’m not saying there’s a plethora of us,” Fayer said. “There also has to be men advocating for women. As a woman engineer I knew that it was my duty to do something like this and to support more women engineers as well -so that they can be developing these solutions and supporting whoever came up with them and getting them out into the market.”

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