First-hand experiences with women’s healthcare inspired friends Chantelle Bell and Anya Roy to launch a virtual gynaecological clinic. Here, they share their story so far…
Whether or not you’re familiar with the term ‘gender health gap’, if you identify as a woman, chances are you’ll be aware of the gap’s main symptom: a culture in which women’s medical symptoms are often dismissed, downplayed or misdiagnosed.
The UK has the 12th biggest health gap between women and men in the world, meaning that women generally receive poorer healthcare than cis men.
Infuriatingly, you’re particularly likely to run into problems when dealing with a condition that only affects women. Gynaecological conditions are shockingly under-studied, with just 2.1% of publicly funded research in the UK dedicated solely to reproductive health.
For Black, Asian and other minority-ethnic women, gynaecological conditions can be even more challenging and dangerous, with a study reporting higher rates of morbidity and mortality than other women as well as a lower quality of care and poorer health outcomes.
Chantelle Bell and Anya Roy joined forces to combine their skills and experience and improve the way women access healthcare.
They launched their business Syrona Health, a virtual health clinic providing specialised support for women, trans and non-binary people experiencing gynaecological issues to change things for the better and make a positive influence in the healthcare industry.
The central tool of the business is the SORA app, via which users can track symptoms and receive insights on how to manage them; book online consultations with doctors and uterine healthcare specialists; chat with other people experiencing the same conditions; and purchase at-home testing kits covering everything from fertility hormones to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Below, Chantelle and Anya discuss the lack of research into gynaecological conditions and how their own experiences inspired them to shake up women’s healthcare.
Anya: “The idea for Syrona Health came about when Chantelle and I were talking about health struggles we’d experienced or witnessed in women close to us.
Chantelle: “My aunts and many of my female cousins have uterine fibroids [non-cancerous growths in or around the womb, which can cause symptoms, including painful periods, discomfort during sex and infertility].
“This condition is more prevalent in Black women [than white women], and my relatives had very difficult experiences when it came to getting diagnoses and treatment.
“So when Anya and I met in 2016, I knew there were big issues in women’s healthcare that had not been resolved.”
Anya: “Before we met at university, I’d been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I felt my health issues were exacerbated because my symptoms weren’t taken seriously. I was misdiagnosed with a urinary tract infection and spent almost a year going between doctors before starting treatment.”
“I’m now in remission and perfectly healthy, but I only got a cancer diagnosis once I went private.
“There are big structural issues that need to be addressed, especially as lots of people don’t have the privilege of being able to pay for private healthcare.
Chantelle: “First and foremost, our goal is to reduce timelines for diagnosis and increase access to treatment for gynaecological health conditions.
“When it came to getting the business off the ground, we gained momentum through the Google for Startups Black Founders Fund, which offers both practical and financial support to promising black founders across Europe.
“We’ve also been supported by the Google mentoring programme, which is open to all small businesses and charities. They’ve put us in touch with some great mentors who have expertise in a variety of areas.
“We’ve benefited from the one-to-one mentoring sessions from Google. These have been focused on key growth areas for the business such as leadership as well as understanding things like data privacy. We’ve implemented some of the learnings in our day-to-day running of the business.”
Chantelle: “It was super-important to us that the SORA app was accessible to women all over the world.
“SORA or 天 is a Japanese word meaning ‘The sky’. By naming the app that, we wanted to denote that it’s an uplifting space to go to when things are not clear and an individual is in pain.
“The app lets you track your symptoms and lifestyle and access specialists 24/7, whether that’s a gynaecologist, therapist, nutritionist or doctor.
“We’ve also got a really engaged community section where people can share their experiences in a judgement-free zone with others going through a similar thing.
“We’re a global team with no traditional fixed office – we have people working for us in Bulgaria, Romania, Lebanon and India, as well as the UK. Tech enables us to bring together the best people possible who are all working towards our common goal of making gynaecological healthcare more accessible.”
Anya: “We see technology as a way to make our ideas come to life.
“We use core principles such as machine learning (e.g. algorithms) to personalise patient care.
“We also want to reach patients who wouldn’t necessarily be easily connected to healthcare, so tech is central to that mission.”
Chantelle: “Google tools help us analyse how people are interacting with our website, and advertise our product to the people who need it most.
“Tech has enabled us to build faster, learn faster and grow faster.”
Expanding access for all
Anya: “Ultimately, we don’t want to create any more barriers to accessing culturally sensitive gynaecological care.
“We want to democratise it, and ensure it’s delivered in a cost-effective, quality manner.”
Chantelle: “Different groups experience different challenges when it comes to accessing healthcare, so we consulted a diverse range of people about their experiences and needs when developing our product and app.
“Our mission is to provide access to gynaecological health support to all women, trans and non-binary folk who need it. Good healthcare should be a right not a privilege, and we want Syrona Health to be a key part of progressing that narrative.”
In the past 18 months, an average of 5,000 British businesses a week sold online for the first time. Google provides companies like Syrona Health with tools to support growth, helping 700,000 UK businesses contribute £55 billion to Britain’s economic recovery in 2020. Whatever your mission, Google can help you make it a reality with the Grow With Google programme. Check out Syrona Health’s favourite tools below…