YeneHealth, a leading femtech startup, has been at the center of an insightful dissertation by a Human-Computer Interaction Design researcher, Melat Gebremariam at the City, University of London. This study takes a significant leap in understanding and improving digital health platforms, specifically targeting Ethiopian and African women’s reproductive health needs. This dissertation collaboration underscores a commitment to revolutionizing the approach to women’s health issues by leveraging technology to overcome cultural barriers and enhance user experience.
YeneHealth embarked on a client-oriented design and build research project with a mission to evaluate the effectiveness of the YeneHealth mobile app in engaging Ethiopian women of reproductive age. Employing two qualitative research methods, the study delved into the app’s navigability, user-friendliness, and its capability to offer culturally-responsive information.
The research was conducted at the City, University of London, where Melat spent the second half of this year working on evaluating and testing the YeneHealth app with local users and her supervisor, Dr. Alex Taylor. The study delves into the complexities and cultural nuances surrounding menstrual and reproductive healthcare services and the intersection of technology and user experience.
The final, 146 page dissertation is not publicly available yet, however this article will give an overview of the research and the value it has on the femtech startups and in the industry at-large. The dissertation underscores the importance of adopting user-centered values in the design process, ensuring that the solutions offered by YeneHealth are not only technologically advanced but also empathetic to the users’ cultural and societal realities.
This research involved conducting semi-structured interviews and a usability test for the YeneHealth app. The study was carried out in both English and Amharic, the official working language of Ethiopia, according to participants’ language preferences. All research materials, such as information sheets and consent forms, were translated into Amharic. A preliminary usability test was performed and modified to align with the natural user flow of the participants.
Initially, interviews were conducted to explore how the participants’ cultural and environmental contexts influenced their access to reproductive health education, resources, and their engagement with digital health products. This was followed by a usability test, where participants interacted with various features and services of the YeneHealth app, revealing key usability concerns.
The combination of insights gathered from the interviews and the usability tests led to the formulation of design recommendations. These recommendations were aimed at resolving identified issues, thereby enhancing the app’s user experience for both current and prospective users. The culmination of this research was the creation of both sketches and high-fidelity prototypes, offering a tangible vision of the proposed design improvements.
Addressing Cultural Taboos through Technology
In a society where discussing menstrual and reproductive health is often avoided, African women face significant barriers in accessing vital information and resources. This reluctance stems from deep-rooted societal norms that associate shame with these natural health aspects. The study examined how the YeneHealth app is challenging these taboos. By providing discreet access to information and products, YeneHealth is not just a digital platform but a cultural catalyst, bridging the gap created by societal constraints.
Usability and Localized Design- Key to Success
As mentioned, another crucial aspect of the research was the usability testing of the YeneHealth app. The study identified several strengths and weaknesses inherent in the app’s hybrid design, which combines native and web-based elements. This mix of features has a direct link to the overall user experience which was assessed and re-designed for improved experience and flow. The dissertation offered design recommendations and prototypes to address these issues effectively, underscoring the importance of seamless and user-friendly design in health-related applications.
Perhaps the most significant contribution of this dissertation lies in its emphasis on localized design which has been a strong suit of YeneHealth over other similar platforms across the continent. The research underscores the importance of tailoring digital health solutions to meet the specific needs of different regions. By focusing on cultural responsiveness, YeneHealth can more effectively serve Ethiopian women, acknowledging and respecting their unique cultural context.
Shaping the Future of FemTech in Ethiopia and Africa
The implications of this study for YeneHealth and similar platforms are profound. It highlights the need for digital health solutions to be culturally sensitive and user-centric. For YeneHealth, this means evolving its platform to be more than just a tool for accessing reproductive health products and information. It becomes a platform that understands and respects the cultural nuances of its users, making it a trusted and effective resource for Ethiopian women.
The research is a vital contribution to the Human-Computer Interaction Design (HCID) field, particularly at the intersection of technology and cultural responsiveness in women’s health– FemTech.
The dissertation is more than an academic exercise; it is a roadmap for making technology a true ally in addressing sensitive health issues in a culturally respectful manner. It marks a significant milestone for YeneHealth. It exemplifies how academic research, grounded in user-centric design principles, can profoundly impact the real-world application of technology in sensitive health domains. As YeneHealth integrates these insights into its platform, it sets a new benchmark in femtech, prioritizing not just technological innovation but also cultural empathy and user engagement.
The dissertation will remain as an internal document for now however, it is a reflection of YeneHealth’s commitment to center and focus on its users first and be driven by compassionate and quality care. R&D continues to be a major pillar that supports the decision making and operations of YeneHealth and femtech companies are highly recommended to utilize such a framework to build a unique solution that works for users.
YeneHealth would like to express a heartfelt gratitude to Melat for her dedication and hard work in conducting this research. The YeneHealth team looks forward to continuing using evidence-based design and practice to inform technological developments. This is a promise and approach intentionally taken to provide the best possible healthcare service and experience for African users.
This research project evaluated the YeneHealth app, focusing on its effectiveness in fulfilling Ethiopian women’s reproductive health needs. Menstrual and reproductive health is a subject that is perceived as taboo in Ethiopian society, resulting in feelings of shame among women who seek to access products and resources, and to openly discuss the topic. African female-based technologies (FemTech), particularly mobile applications, are aiming to address societal and cultural taboos around reproductive health by offering users discreet ways to access information and products. Their innovative solutions are bridging the knowledge and resource gaps created by these taboos. The YeneHealth app utilizes these solutions to serve Ethiopian women.
The usability test uncovered several usability strengths and weaknesses. A number of the usability issues are embedded in the app’s hybrid nature: a mix of native and web-based elements causing inconsistencies in features and in the look and feel. The design recommendations and prototype demonstrate how a fully native application can resolve the issues effectively. Additionally, the research highlights the invaluable role of localized design to seamlessly meet user needs within specific regions, offering valuable insights for the HCI field, and the intersection of technology and cultural responsiveness in women’s health.
Keywords: FemTech, Menstrual Tracking, Reproductive Health, Ethiopia, YeneHealth
Stay tuned for more updates on this transformative collaboration and the upcoming launch of the update mobile app!
Reflection from Dissertation Author:
With my background in public health, I’m interested in understanding how digital health technologies can contribute to better health outcomes. When it came time to begin thinking about ideas for my master’s dissertation project, I was certain that I wanted to explore a project related to healthcare or women’s health and technology.
I first learned about YeneHealth when a friend introduced me to their work early in my master’s program. Although I was interested in their mission, I didn’t think about the possibility of working together at the time. Later on, when I was brainstorming dissertation ideas, I came across one of their videos outlining their goal of increasing access to reproductive health information and resources for African women through their app, and that immediately sparked my interest in a potential collaboration for my dissertation project.
My studies in human-computer interaction emphasized the far-reaching impact of design on society; from that, I was motivated to learn how the YeneHealth app was designed to serve Ethiopian women and address their healthcare needs. Most existing research on the use of women’s health technologies focuses on Western contexts, excluding a significant portion of the world’s population that also utilizes these technologies. Identifying this gap in the current research presented an opportunity to spotlight how digital health technologies can be designed to be culturally responsive and cater to the specific needs of a population within their unique cultural context.
Through this project, I learned a lot about the significance of YeneHealth’s initiatives in Ethiopia’s sociocultural landscape and their use of technology to bridge the knowledge and resource gaps in women’s health, while accounting for their users’ cultural and language needs. From a human-centered design perspective, I learned about the importance of localizing design. Seeking to understand cultural nuances and user needs to enhance the app’s usability and accessibility has the potential to play a pivotal role in addressing women’s health challenges in Ethiopia.
YeneHealth is the first femtech startup in Ethiopia, focused on unlocking the digital door of healthcare services for African women of reproductive age. Their culturally-responsive and multilingual digital platform provides confidential access to a range of health services and personalized features, empowering women to take control of their health and well-being.
The Dissertation Author:
City, University of London Class of 2023
MSc, Human-Computer Interaction Design