Investment in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) healthcare sector is booming. Over $144 billion will be ploughed into Mena-wide medical facilities by the end of 2020, with GCC nations contributing over half of the total expenditure, according to Al Masah capital.
But while much attention is being paid to the region’s general rise in non-communicable diseases, more focus must be given to female-specific health issues, urges Sophie Smith, founder of Sharjah-based healthcare startup Nabta.
“Women’s health has been under-researched and underfunded since time memorial,” she says. “So much global testing is still done only on men, which means women still get adverse reactions to medicines, for example.”
Nabta, which she dubs a “hybrid healthcare” company, aims to address gaps in local women’s healthcare, and to make affordable and accessible healthcare available to the next generation of women.
According to Smith, a new model of healthcare is required, “one that improves clinical outcomes by removing some of the inherent inefficiencies in the healthcare ecosystem.”
Nabta uses a combination of digital solutions and cutting-edge research to slash the time and expense taken to treat regional female healthcare issues.
The social enterprise also supports women by providing hundreds of health-related articles on its online portal and social media support groups in Arabic and English.
Nabta’s business model is based around care pathway models. Its first pathway, to be launched this month, concerns fertility and enables the diagnoses of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a condition that Smith says is responsible for around 70 per cent of local infertility.
The Nabta solution for PCOS incorporates a pay-as-you-go virtual consultation and a 48-hour couriered blood test. “We can diagnose in three months rather than years, and for significantly less than it would cost in a clinic. Our solution affords women more privacy and autonomy,” says Smith.
In the coming years, Nabta hopes to deliver care pathways for ailments such as endometriosis, gestational diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and reproductive cancers, as well as PCOS aftercare.
Concerned by what she views as a “provider-led and provider-centric” health system in the UAE, Smith stresses that Nabta is an independent company, focused on bettering women’s healthcare.
“The local healthcare system is very commercially driven. A lot of the laboratories and healthcare providers are given kickbacks. Patients often get given tests they don’t need because of commissions. We don’t take kickbacks. We would happily see that aspect of the UAE healthcare system eliminated forever.”
Nabta, which is headquartered in Sharjah Innovation Park, has partnered with the University of Sharjah to help expedite its research and development (R&D) ambitions.
“Our plan this year is sign some joint ventures so we can more effectively innovate on a pathway-by-pathway basis and really become more disruptive in women’s healthcare,” explains Smith.
The social enterprise is also focused on closing its seeding round, before launching its Series A round in June.
Smith, who initially set up Nabta with $110,000 of combined co-founder funding, says she wants to build a “trusted global leader in women’s health”.
“We want to acquire companies that can help us add to our services. The more money we make, the more people we can help,” she says.
Currently Nabta employs 21 people across the region, including five developers based out of Egypt.
“In this region there is a huge amount of growth potential for female-focused hybrid healthcare solutions. We eventually will export globally but for now we are very much focused on the Middle East,” says Smith. “Nabta, which means blossoming plant in Arabic, is here to support women’s healthcare as they blossom throughout their lifetime.”