Part I: Why we should invest more in nonpregnant, underserved women

Today is the first of a three-part series on why we believe that investments in women’s health should be more inclusive.   

Nagavalli, our customer, works as a domestic helper at 9 homes every day. During her only window of free time, she cleans the house, spends time with her children and cooks them dinner. Her conviction that her two sons and daughter, aged 14, 10 and 8, can lead better lives than her overrides the hopelessness that she could easily succumb to.

“I want my kids to study well and not end up in a job like me. That’s all I want and nothing else.”

Pictured above is Nagavalli, our customer, in her home in Dhideer Nagar, one of Chennai's slum areas. 

Pictured above is Nagavalli, our customer, in her home in Dhideer Nagar, one of Chennai's slum areas. 

Her husband is a painter, who sometimes has work. He spends most of his income on alcohol, and gives Nagavalli the leftovers. This money can barely buy her a cup of coffee, she says. She wants to be independent of him, so she works to pay for their food, school tuition for her children and all other household expenses.    

Nagavalli, similar to millions of other low-income women globally, is overburdened with responsibility, is often treated poorly by her husband and family, and has no support network to care for her own health.

Two key pieces of evidence support this notion.

First, trends in foreign aid show us that investment in women’s health outside of the critical period in which they’re pregnant is limited. Foreign aid related to women’s health has mostly been channeled into decreasing maternal mortality and into HIV prevention and treatment over the past several years, and thankfully rates of maternal mortality and HIV incidence have decreased drastically. A recent Lancet article suggests that we should expand our health investments to include women during other parts of their life.

Second, more women and girls suffer and die from disease in emerging markets as compared to developed countries. 3.9 million girls are missing in emerging markets, .9 million of these girls are in India, and .3 million are across South Asia in part because of deep-rooted gender discrimination. 30% of these deaths occur between 15 - 49, yet deaths and disease associated with pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum represent a decreasing fraction of the burden of disease for women.

The question we should now be asking ourselves is this: how can we work with women to improve their health and live more prosperous lives during other parts of their lifecycle?

Tulalens aims to fill this serious void in investment by developing a suite of services for and with women 18 to 40 inclusive of women without children, women with children and pregnant women. By providing healthcare to women inclusively, we aim to shift the thinking of every layer of society from family members to investors to acknowledge women’s important role as productive members of society. 

Through human-centered design, we’ve found that iron-deficiency anemia is one of the most prevalent pain points our customers face. Our first service addresses this condition. Iron-deficiency anemia can lead to severe headaches, tiredness, repeated infections, adverse birth outcomes for pregnant women and in it’s worst form, maternal deaths. More than 55% of women in India have iron-deficiency anemia, and this percentage may be higher among poorer women. Official statistics are not disaggregated by income level. In fact, the Indian government came under spotlight last year in attempts to hide the severity of the problem.

To put the power back into women's hands, we’re equipping them with the tools, support and information they need. We help women track their iron, and recommend and sell iron-rich ingredients customized to individual households' taste preferences, budgets and time constraints.

How does the service benefit our customers? This is what Nagavalli had to say.

“Before I joined Tulalens, I would often be so dizzy and experience headaches. I would clean the wash basin (at the homes I work at) and would get so dizzy I thought I’d fall over and hit my head. I was scared to tell my employers because I knew they’d say I wasn’t doing a good job and just replace me. Since becoming a part of Tulalens, I no longer feel this way. I feel like I have the energy to work in two more houses! I no longer feel scared, and I feel good about making healthy food that I previously didn’t know about for me and my children.”

Women such as Nagavalli are willing to invest in their own health, but they need support. Tulalens serves as the instrument to catalyze their investments.  

Do you want to learn more? Check back next Wednesday for part two of our three-part series.