Breaking the glass ceiling

Breaking the glass ceiling

Synopsis

All-women healthcare startup plans to become South Asia’s leading telemedicine company

Breaking the glass ceiling
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KARACHI: Sehat Kahani in 2021 became the first exclusively women-led company in Pakistan to raise a Pre-Series A round of $1 million to expand its operations in the country’s digital healthcare sector. In 2022, the company plans an aggressive expansion to become South Asia’s leading telemedicine company in the next five years.

Dr Sara Saeed Khurram, chief executive officer and founder of Sehat Khani, said that only 1.1 per cent of the total investment in startups in Pakistan has been in women founded companies.

“We hope to break this glass ceiling of women founded companies not being able to secure mature rounds of funding in Pakistan by our efforts and motivate young women founders to raise funding for their ideas,” she said.

The all-women founded company that provides healthcare through telemedicine focused on smartphone app for the retail and corporate sectors, while virtual brick and mortar clinics have also planned to expand operations to countries with similar healthcare challenges in Pakistan.

Not only has there been a spate of startups in Pakistan in 2021, there has been a funding frenzy in the startup space with record funding coming in during the year.

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Overall, 2021 was an inflection point for Pakistani startup space where funding and investment into businesses went through the roof. The total funding in the startups was well over $300 million, which is six times higher than 2020 funding, the previous good year for startups.

Dr Sara said that health was the most neglected area in the country, and; thus, offered huge potential for telemedicine services after the people were getting comfortable with this mode of healthcare.

“There are only 100,000 to 140,000 working doctors of the total 245,000 doctors in the country. The idea behind Sehat Kahani is to provide access to almost half of the population to qualified medical consultation and treatment.”

“It was the same reason, I and Dr Iffat Zafar Aga chose to become doctors in the first place.”

“Women constitute around 80 per cent of the total doctors, because this profession is considered noble and acceptable for women. But, less than 40 per cent of them actually practice due to various reasons.”

“On the other hand, a large number of men doctors settle abroad for better opportunities, because doctors at their early stage of practice don’t get money.”

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Sehat Kahani Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder Dr Iffat Aga said that healthcare was the issue of the entire population, and all needed affordable, reliable and convenient healthcare services.

“The government realises that and we were approached by the federal, as well as provincial governments several times to assist them in providing healthcare to remote areas, particularly in the times of Covid,” she said.

Sehat Kahani raised seed funding of $500,000 in 2018; followed by a pre-Series A raising of $1 million in March 2021.

Sehat Kahani’s application vertical was launched in 2019 with around 60 doctors. Now, the company has 7,000 doctors on its platform. So far, Sehat Kahani enables over 700,000 consultations with a 93 per cent success ratio, the founders said.

Sehat Kahani also serves a significant portion of the country’s corporate sector.

“Corporate employees usually can’t take advantage of health plans because most corporations don’t cover OPD expenses. So we launched a version for corporates to cover OPD through our telemedicine app solution. It excelled, we started with three companies and now we serve 3.2 million employees and their family members for 300 plus corporates.”

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Dr Aga said that the company currently offers consultancies on 33 specialties with a focus on both physical and mental health.

“The corporates are very interested in mental health services. Several multinational companies are mandated to provide mental healthcare to their employees.”

In addition to further expanding and promoting the Sehat Kahani digital platform and app in the region, the health provider network that provides quality healthcare in Pakistan to those in need, using telemedicine is eyeing to scale to 150 clinics in the country, where patients could consult a physician online.

“We have 35 clinics up and running in all the four provinces of Pakistan, while more will be set up in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJ&K) soon. In five years, we hope to scale up to 150 e-clinics, while also scaling up the mobile application in the region,” Dr Aga said.

“There are 7,000 doctors on our network and we hope to increase this number to 50,000. Moreover, we will engage doctors from across the world with different specialties, which are not available in the country. Around 20 per cent of the doctors on our platform are based abroad.”

Though there are several telemedicine apps, Sehat Kahani’s uniqueness lies in its multi-population services. Dr Sara said: “The people with the budget ranging Rs50 to Rs3,000 can avail our services, whether they are in a city, a village or abroad.”

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While all other telemedicine apps are wholly dependent mainly on smartphones, Sehat Kahani has not only a corporate and retail app, but they also set up e-clinics across Pakistan, where a nurse remains present for connecting patients with an online physician.

“They don’t even need a smartphone or internet connection. None of our competitors has that. Besides, our platform offers chat, audio call and video call to make the subscribers even more comfortable,” Dr Sara added.

Talking about the challenges, Dr Sara said that unavailability of reliable internet in remote and under-served areas was a big issue.

“We can control the quality and speed of the internet at our end, but we have no control on the receivers’ end,” she added.

“The thing is telemedicine cannot be ordered against cash on delivery, and a large number of the country’s population does not have electronic transactions.” she said, adding that the number of bank accounts and payment wallets was increasing fast, which would benefit the telemedicine sector.

 

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