A women’s well-being app builds on Saudi Arabia’s health-tech success

Saudi women take part in a cycling race to mark World Obesity Day celebration in Riyadh's Princess Noura University. (AFP/File Photo)
Saudi women take part in a cycling race to mark World Obesity Day celebration in Riyadh's Princess Nourah University. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 23 October 2021

A women’s well-being app builds on Saudi Arabia’s health-tech success

Saudi women take part in a cycling race to mark World Obesity Day celebration in Riyadh's Princess Nourah University. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Technology geared toward women’s health, or femtech, is a rapidly emerging field in the Kingdom
  • Beyond fitness tracking, IMC Women’s Health app monitors users’ body metrics, fertility and wellness 

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s growing health tech sector will soon get a new smartphone application dedicated to monitoring women’s well-being.

The IMC women’s health app, due to launch on Nov. 1, will — according to its creators — track users’ body metrics, offering them more control over their health and promoting overall well-being.

More than just a dieting and fitness tracker, the new app also gives information on gynecology services, polycystic ovary syndrome, fertility, fatigue and hormones. It includes a calendar and calculator for menstrual cycles, ovulation and fertility tracking, as well as for pregnancy and wellness management.

“We focus a lot on wellness and well-being,” Farhaa Abdelhaq, who is in charge of the app’s design and analysis, told Arab News. “It connects to our vision of healing the mind, body and soul by taking a holistic approach. Biologically, we know that women have longer life expectancies, but that longevity does not equate to better quality of health.”

Different features allow women to predict their fertility, record and track their symptoms, and monitor contraception, blood pressure, blood sugar and medication. As Abdelhaq explained, such metrics require a service tailored specially for women to provide them with more control over the management of their health.




A preview of the IMC Women’s Health App. (Supplied)

“It’s really about dedicating a special app for their specific needs, for diseases that affect them, and to give them more opportunity and information, without visiting the doctor all the time,” she said.

“It’s about enabling and empowering patients to have information at their fingertips, which they can receive from a more (reliable) source rather than reading online.”

Available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, the app will initially be released to patients at the International Medical Center Hospital in Jeddah, where it was developed in both Arabic and English, before it is offered to women across the country and, eventually, the world.

“We will assess, based on the feedback from our patients, whether any features need to be improved,” Abdelhaq said. “There is no specific app for women to date in Saudi Arabia, so it’s important this is done for them.”

Technology geared toward women’s health, known as femtech, is a rapidly emerging industry. According to a report from Research and Markets called “FemTech Market — Global Outlook and Forecast 2021-2026,” the sector was expected to grow at a compounded annual rate of over 13 percent during those five years.

With the health care industry increasingly adopting digital tools, the report found that 80 percent of women spend money on health products and make 90 percent of household decisions related to health issues. Overall, the global femtech market linked to maternal health is expected to reach over $19 billion by 2026.




Saudi medicine students wearing special 3D glasses listen to Egyptian Doctor Fawzy Deghedy as he explains his new cyber anatomy technique, which employs a virtual 3D anatomy machine, at the Saudi German hospital in Jeddah. (AFP/File Photo)

“It’s a huge tech-based industry focusing on developing female health,” Abdelhaq said. “It focuses on very specific issues for women.

“There are a lot of stages women go through — from menstruation cycles and pre- and post-menopause, to pregnancy, postpartum and using birth control. The idea is to improve our overall well-being, and digital tools are one way we can do that.

“Women are the primary decision makers when it comes to health care, but they also have little information, or they’re misunderstood.”

Such digital tools can be especially important for women in Saudi Arabia, as they take into account travel arrangements and religious duties, such as Umrah.

“It gives them that data, information and awareness overall to have everything listed out so that, when they go to the doctor, they know what symptoms to mention,” Abdelhaq said. “It helps early diagnosis.”

In particular, Abdelhaq highlighted the app’s role in monitoring polycystic ovary syndrome, which affects fertility, weight and hormones, and can be difficult to diagnose.

INNUMBERS

*13% - Femtech’s projected compounded annual growth rate from 2020 to 2026.

*$19 billion - Estimated global femtech market linked to maternal health by 2026.

(Source: Research and Markets)

The app is part of a set of digital solutions that the IMC Hospital aims to provide to women throughout Saudi Arabia. 

“As health care is progressively becoming more patient-centric and personalized, it is imperative we take into account the different needs of Saudi women and use technology to ensure it is both affordable and accessible,” Omer Sayyid, the app’s project manager, told Arab News.

“Globally, for decades, health-care products were developed, designed and delivered without considering the fact that women’s health care issues and needs are different from those of men. Machine learning, the internet of things, and artificial intelligence all have enormous potential to help devise interactive health solutions for women.”

From improved cancer screening and diagnosis of women-specific diseases, to better self-care management and engagement in dealing with pregnancy, menstruation cycle issues, or treating diseases such as arthritis, osteoporosis, depression and Alzheimer’s Disease, technology and science can work wonders at a faster rate if diverse needs and voices are incorporated into solutions, Sayyid believes.

“The majority of software, wearables and apps are focused on the fertility or pregnancy category of the femtech market, but we need to move beyond that,” he said. “We need to take into account the needs of women of all ages, not just the reproductive age — menopause and senior care are also important, as well as addressing chronic conditions and hormonal disorders.”

Abdelhaq admitted that there is also a financial incentive. Globally, software and tech companies addressing female biological needs generated $820 million in 2019. “But more importantly, it is a necessity, not a choice, that we include women to ensure we are healthier in current and future generations,” she said.

The new app will no doubt find a ready market. More than 34 percent of patients who use digital tech to track their health feel more in control, according to the Philips’ Future Health Index.




A preview of the IMC Women’s Health App. (Supplied)

“The app is an extension of the ‘digital front door’ — which is an integrated digital strategy for engaging patients,” Muhammad Siddiqui, the chief information officer at Jeddah’s IMC, told Arab News.

“The digital front door empowers patients and offers them a greater sense of autonomy, making it easier and less stressful to enter an insightful conversation about their care. With more transparency and communication, the patient-provider relationship is enhanced.”

The initiative also falls in line with Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom’s economic diversification and reform agenda. Saudi Arabia launched the health sector transformation program earlier this year to develop the health care system across the whole country.

The program is designed to restructure the Kingdom’s health sector and improve its capabilities, setting the health of every member of society at the forefront of its priorities.

“Overall, the IMC has a goal of aligning our facilities to Vision 2030,” Abdelhaq said. “We are looking — from a health perspective — to use more technology for the right purpose, rather than just innovating in the tech sector for the sake of it.

“We’re looking at empowering people, because without this process of improvement, technology is just a tool. In health care, we’re lagging behind in adopting technology compared with banking and finance. But now is an opportune moment to take that leap.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 January 2022

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 25 January 2022

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 25 January 2022

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”


Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal
Updated 24 January 2022

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday said it is “possible” to reach an agreement on the two issues of Iran-US prisoners’ release and the Vienna talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

“They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press conference.

Khatibzadeh’s comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who on Sunday said it is unlikely that Washington would strike an agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens.

BACKGROUND

The four US citizens held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

“Iran has not accepted any precondition from day one of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that “the negotiations are complicated enough, and should not get more complex with complicated remarks.”