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


Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot
Updated 09 December 2021

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot

Arab coalition destroys Houthi communications system, weapons depot
  • The coalition is taking all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop cross-border attacks, it said in a statement

DUBAI: The Arab coalition launched a series of attacks against Houthi targets overnight, destroying a communication system in the Al-Bani district and a weapons depot in Sanaa. 
The coalition said the communication system was being used to launch cross-border drone attacks. 
Coalition forces earlier intercepted and destroyed two drones in Yemeni airspace, one of which was monitored and launched from Sanaa airport.
Clashes between the Iran-backed Houthis and the coalition have intensified in recent months, specifically in Marib where it destroyed a Houthi missile defense system.
On Wednesday, the coalition carried out 16 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib in the past 24 hours. It said 95 militants were killed and 11 Houthi military vehicles were destroyed during the operation.
The coalition is taking all necessary measures to protect civilians and stop cross-border attacks, it said in a statement.


UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq
Updated 39 min 42 sec ago

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq

UN Security Council condemns deadly Daesh terror attacks in Iraq
  • Two incidents in the past week, one in Basra and the other in the north of the country, left dozens of people dead or injured
  • Council members pledged their continued support to Iraq in its fight against terrorism, and in opposing Daesh in particular

The UN Security Council on Wednesday strongly condemned recent terrorist attacks in Iraq that killed or injured dozens of people. Daesh has claimed responsibility.

At least four people were killed and 20 injured in an explosion in Basra on Dec. 7, and at least 13 died in an attack in the north of the country on Dec. 3.

The members of the Security Council offered their condolences to the families of the dead and wished the injured a speedy recovery. They also reiterated their support for the “independence, sovereignty, unity, territorial integrity, democratic process and prosperity of Iraq.”

They urged all states to “actively” cooperate with Iraqi authorities to bring to justice the “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism.” Such cooperation, they stressed, is in line with obligations under international law and Security Council resolutions.

Council members “reiterated that any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”

Pledging its continued support to Iraq in its fight against terrorism, and particularly Daesh, the council “reaffirmed the need for all states to combat by all means — in accordance with the charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law — threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”


Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts
Updated 09 December 2021

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

Half of Iran’s civil jets grounded for lack of spare parts

TEHRAN: More than half of Iran’s fleet of civilian aircraft is grounded due to a lack of spare parts, the deputy head of the country’s airlines association has said.

“The number of inactive planes in Iran has risen to more than 170 ... as a result of missing spare parts, particularly motors,” Alireza Barkhor said in an interview with state news agency IRNA.

The shortage represented more than half of the civilian aircraft in the sanctions-hit country, he said in an interview this week.

“If this trend continues, we will see even more planes grounded in the near future,” Barkhor was quoted as saying.

“We hope that one of the priorities of the government will be helping to finance airlines so that they are able to provide the spare parts to refurbish the grounded planes,” he added.

According to the Iranian economic daily Financial Tribune, national carrier IranAir currently operates a fleet of 39 planes, the majority of them Airbus jets.

Iran’s economy has struggled under sanctions that were lifted after a landmark nuclear deal in 2015 but reimposed again after the US withdrew from the pact in 2018.

In 2016, following the lifting of sanctions, Iran concluded deals to purchase 100 Airbus jets, 80 Boeing planes and 40 ATR aircraft.

But the Islamic republic received only 11 planes as deliveries were interrupted following the reimposition of sanctions, according to the daily.

Meanwhile, Iran has voiced criticism over new US sanctions imposed on a dozen Iranian entities and officials accused of “serious” human rights abuses.

Washington announced the sanctions late on Tuesday, adding to already stringent measures against the Islamic republic.

They came just before talks on reviving a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers are to resume on Thursday in Vienna, according to Iran’s main negotiator.

“Even amid #ViennaTalks, US cannot stop imposing sanctions against Iran,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted.

“Washington fails to understand that ‘maximum failure’ and a diplomatic breakthrough are mutually exclusive,” he added.

“Doubling down on sanctions won’t create leverage — and is anything but seriousness and goodwill.”

The new US measures target government officials and organizations involved in the repression of protesters and political activists, and prisons where activists have been held in brutal conditions.

After a pause of several months the nuclear talks resumed in Vienna last week but paused on Friday.


Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans
Updated 09 December 2021

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans

Music therapy helping lift spirits of war-weary Gazans
  • Music therapy gained official recognition after World War II in successfully dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • According to UNICEF figures, 1 million children live in Gaza which has witnessed four wars with Israel since 2008

GAZA CITY: Specialists in the besieged Gaza Strip are mixing psychiatry and music in therapy sessions designed to improve positivity among the Palestinian enclave’s war-weary population.

And 12-year-old Reem, whose family home was bombed in May during the latest clashes in the ongoing Israeli Palestinian conflict, has been one of those to benefit.

The youngster was left traumatized after an explosion at her house in Gaza’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood, an experience that has since regularly reduced her to tears and caused her to feel isolated and depressed.

But after getting involved in a music therapy scheme run by the Sununu Association for Culture and Arts and funded by the German GIZ organization, her stresses and fears have been significantly eased.

Reem listens to music without words during her weekly psychological support sessions organized as part of the Enjoy Your Life with Music initiative.

Program coordinator, Rania Al-Shurihi, said Reem’s mental health had improved dramatically as a result of her treatment, adding that the association also held group sessions for Gazans suffering from the psychological effects of years of war and economic hardship.

Music therapy gained official recognition after World War II in successfully dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and it is now used to treat a range of conditions including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, heart irregularities, and blood pressure issues.

Al-Shurihi pointed out that sometimes exposing people to sad music helped them shed negative energy through crying but added that happy and relaxing music incorporating the sound of rain and waves could have similar positive outcomes.

She noted that psychological pressure often generated the need to listen to music or readings from the Holy Qur’an for relaxation.

Mental health specialists also use therapeutic methods such as writing, cooking, sailing, and breathing exercises to relieve tensions.

“Despite society’s inherited and negative view of mental health center visitors, the success of the music therapy experience has greatly contributed to changing these concepts,” Al-Shurihi said.

Experts believe that many children living in Gaza suffer from psychological damage related to the conflict including depression, anxiety, behavioral disorders, urinary incontinence, and nervous mood swings.

According to UNICEF figures, 1 million children live in Gaza which has witnessed four wars with Israel since 2008. The aid organization said the deadly conflict in May had a devastating impact on many youngsters after schools, health facilities, homes, and offices were damaged or flattened in missile attacks.

Al-Shurihi said it was important that music therapy continued to be offered in Gaza not just to tackle the effects of war but also the daily pressures of life faced by Palestinians.

“We all need psychological intervention to varying degrees. And through music, we seek to help the neediest people to overcome difficult circumstances and not drown in a sea of psychological crises,” she added.


Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes
Updated 08 December 2021

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes

Lebanese caught between old and new $100 banknotes
  • Banks and money changers deny taking commissions on old bills

BEIRUT: Lebanese money changers refusing to accept older $100 banknotes, known as “white notes,” is causing confusion, particularly after some people were charged an extra $5 fee for exchanging $100 white bills.

Dozens of customers flocked to banks to learn more about the news, especially since some of the white $100 notes were issued by banks.

A customer told Arab News: “Every Lebanese is keeping a stack of $100 bills in their home for when they need them the most since the banks confiscated our deposits, and no one dares to deposit a single dollar in the bank nowadays.”

He added: “I went to my bank to inquire about this new rule adopted by money changers. My daughter told me that one refused to exchange the $100 that she gave him, claiming it was an old edition and he had the right to take $5 as commission if she wanted to exchange it. Who gave them the right to do this? I, my wife and my children all work and we save whatever we make in dollars. Does this mean that our savings have become worthless?”

He said: “The bank manager told me that the problem is with money changers, not banks, since they do not have instructions to stop dealing with the old $100 bills; on the contrary, banks are using both the old and new editions. He suggested that I occasionally bring him $200 to $400, in exchange for which he would give me $50 bills until the issue with money changers is resolved.”

Over the past few days, the topic of “old, white” $100 and the “new, blue” $100 banknotes has dominated conversation.

Money transfer companies were also said to have refused to deal with the older notes. Some money changers have taken advantage of the ambiguity to impose a $10 fee for exchanging white $100 bills.

The confusion was said to said to have been stirred by one of the largest money shipping companies, shut down after it was subject to a judicial investigation into smuggling funds abroad after Oct. 17, 2019 — when the financial crisis hit Lebanon, and in light of which Banque du Liban froze transfers inside and outside Lebanon.

Mahmoud Murad, former head of the Syndicate of Money Changers, told Arab News: “This fad has been circulating in the Lebanese financial market for about a week now. We do not know its source, nor who invented it. The problem is that people believe anything in Lebanon.”

He added: “People who come to my business to buy dollar bills only accept the blue-colored edition now. We, as money changers, are buying and selling both the old and new editions; nothing has changed.”

Murad said: “If the $100 notes are worn-out or torn, we buy them from people but never sell them again. Instead, we give them to shipping companies to return them to the US and replace them with brand-new ones.

“But everyone in Lebanon is now a money changer. The Lebanese, the Syrian, the Sri Lankan, the Bengali, the supermarket cashier, the butcher, all engage in exchanging money. Money changers should not be blamed for this.”

Murad said that the Syndicate of Money Changers met on Wednesday and stressed that all money changers follow legal and moral rules when dealing with customers.

However, Banque du Liban revealed in a statement on Wednesday that “some banks and money changers have charged fees for exchanging $100 banknotes, claiming that they are outdated.”

It added: “The specifications of valid $100 notes are determined by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, an agency affiliated with the US Treasury,” noting: “BDL alone determines the specifications of valid Lebanese currency.”

The US Embassy in Lebanon also stated on Wednesday that “it is US government policy that all designs of Federal Reserve notes remain legal tender, or legally valid for payments, regardless of when they were issued. This policy includes all denominations of Federal Reserve notes, from 1914 to present.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Banks in Lebanon announced that “after the great controversy surrounding some money changers taking commissions on old $100 bills, ABL would like to clarify that Lebanese banks deal with banknotes without any amendment to existing procedures. No additional fee is charged for accepting white $100 banknotes.”

OMT Exchange also stated that it “has not stopped accepting white $100 bills, if they are in good condition, and no additional fee is charged at any of our centers. OMT does not accept any banknotes that are torn, burnt, yellowed, or even partially damaged.”