How This UAE Startup is Revolutionizing Women's Fertility Screenings | Savoir Flair
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How This UAE Startup is Revolutionizing Women's Fertility Screenings
article RUPI KAUR BY CARLOTA GUERRERO
by Jana Shakhashir 5-minute read April 19, 2024

There is no "right" time to explore your fertility. Discover how this local startup is changing the narrative around fertility screenings and preservation.

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As a 25-year-old woman, the landscape of health – specifically hormone health – feels like a constant question mark. Terms like PCOS, insulin resistance, endometriosis, gut issues, and hormonal imbalances have become a second language among my female friends, peers, and social media personalities. With each conversation and story shared, a question lurks in the back of my mind: what if these issues will affect my ability to conceive? 

Despite these valid concerns, the thought of taking a fertility test seems distant, reserved for a future self who is ready to start a family or is nearing the age where a decision like egg freezing becomes urgent. It's a common sentiment among many in my age group; we're navigating the immediate challenges of our health conditions without a clear understanding of how they might impact our ability to conceive later on. Because until then, what's the point, right? Not quite. A recent conversation made me realize that when it comes to understanding our reproductive health, there's never a "right time," and it's never too early to start preparing for all future possibilities.

We know that women are born with a finite number of eggs (about a million), which begins to decline even before birth. This decline accelerates throughout our lives, particularly as we hit our 30s. While we're busy pursuing education, careers, and personal dreams, our biological reserves are quietly diminishing –  both in quantity and quality. At age 34, Torkia Mahloul was coaxed by a friend into taking an AMH test, a term she was unfamiliar with at the time. AMH, or anti-müllerian hormone, is an indicator of a woman's egg count and can be screened with a simple blood test. Higher levels of AMH suggest a larger reserve of eggs, and as your eggs decrease, so does your AMH. When Mahloul received her results, she faced a now-or-never moment regarding the decision to freeze her eggs. Unacquainted with the specifics of egg freezing and rattled by the financial commitment, she felt overwhelmed, especially upon learning that she would need multiple rounds of egg freezing to ensure a reasonable chance for future pregnancies. Little did she know, this challenging period would lead her to meet her co-founder, Majd Abu Zant, a veteran in the fertility field for over two decades. Together, they founded Ovasave, a venture aimed at demystifying and simplifying fertility for women everywhere.

Ovasave's at-home fertility test kit caters to women who are both curious and perhaps a bit anxious about their reproductive futures – regardless of whether they are actively trying to conceive. The test involves a simple finger prick that can be done in the privacy of your home, eliminating the need for a clinic visit. This accessibility is a gateway to empowerment, making it possible for insights into one's reproductive health to become as routine as a regular health check-up but without the stress or inconvenience of a clinical setting. "The idea was to make fertility information, education, and care more accessible to a new generation of women," Mahloul explains.

But what if THERE IS something you can DO about it?

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“It’s often almost too late to seek help when issues arise while trying to conceive later in life. The most effective way to approach your fertility is to be proactive, understand [your body] early on, test early, and make informed decisions while [you're] still young and healthy,” she continued. Ovasave’s service extends beyond just delivering test results. Once you have understood your ovarian reserve from your AMH test results, the next question is about your options. “That's where we come in, offering a direct path to care and access to our network of fertility clinics, with transparency on information and pricing – resources I lacked back then.”

Another game-changing aspect of this startup is the affordability of its services compared to traditional clinic-based AMH tests, which typically aren't covered by insurance. In clinics, the cost for the test alone can average around AED 500, with an additional AED 500 required for a follow-up consultation to discuss the results. Ovasave, however, offers both the test and the consultation for a total of AED 350, significantly reducing the financial barrier for women seeking fertility insights. If a woman then decides to proceed with egg freezing (a process that can cost between AED 20,000 and AED 23,000) Ovasave provides flexible payment plans, allowing women to spread the cost over six months, making the financially intensive process of fertility preservation more manageable and accessible. 

When I brought up potential concerns people might have about the reliability and accuracy of an at-home test compared to in-clinic procedures, Mahloul assured me that the integrity and standards remain uncompromised. “This is a lab test, and it's run on the same machines used in clinics. Clinics don’t usually even process these tests onsite themselves; they simply collect the blood in a tube and send it off to a lab. We follow the same protocol, but our kit allows you to collect the sample at home,” she explained. She highlighted the durability and stability of their device, saying, “It’s a super stable blood card that can be left on your kitchen counter for up to 30 days without compromising the integrity of the sample.”

Addressing the increasing privacy concerns that often accompany DNA testing, such as those seen with ancestry services like 23andMe, Mahloul expresses: “I share those concerns about DNA privacy. That’s why I’ve never taken an ancestry test myself; the processing of the samples isn’t transparent.” She reassured me about Ovasave’s commitments, saying, “We are a UAE-based company and adhere strictly to both local and international regulations. We're ADHICS compliant (a standard set for healthcare providers in Abu Dhabi), and we've gone the extra mile to ensure HIPAA compliance (a U.S. standard that ensures the protection of sensitive patient data) and GDPR compliance (the European standard for data privacy).” Mahloul emphasized, "When you go to a clinic, you expect them to protect your data. You can expect the same from us. We have the same standards and the same practices internally, the only difference is we provide the convenience that women need to take the plunge and get tested.”

If I had tested ten years before I did, it would have maybe taken me ONE or TWO rounds of egg-freezing instead of the FIVE rounds I endured at 34.

article RUPI KAUR BY CARLOTA GUERRERO

During our conversation, Mahloul asked whether my friends, peers, or I had ever considered getting our AMH levels tested. I admitted, “I think we’re all scared. I think a lot of Gen Z girls have this sort of back-of-their-minds irrational (not so irrational) fear that they’re infertile. We’re constantly bombarded with horror stories about how the world we live in, from food production to pollution to microplastics, is impacting our health, but we might not know the extent of it until we’re older. It’s like the saying that the lifestyle choices you make in your 20s will impact your health in your 40s and beyond, but these are circumstances we didn't actually choose. I fear that one day, I'll turn 50 or so, and everything that’s been progressively harming me throughout my life will hit me all at once and make me very sick. And then there’s the added layer, as a woman, where I ask myself if they're also making me infertile. The uncertainty is so overwhelming that sometimes, it feels easier to live in ignorance, at least until the moment I decide to start a family, because what if there’s nothing I can do about it?”

Mahloul challenged this perspective, saying, “But what if there is something you can do about it? Many avoid fertility testing because they’re not actively trying to conceive, but that’s precisely the narrative we have to change. Fertility is like a Pandora’s box for those of us who aren't actively trying to conceive; we don’t know what’s happening until it's potentially too late. If you start testing early, like at 25, you’re not just confronting potential bad news, you’re gaining a chance to take proactive steps. I learned this the hard way – if I had tested ten years before I did, it would have maybe taken me one or two rounds of egg-freezing instead of the five rounds I endured at 34. Five times more treatments, five times more costly, and five times more difficult, and it all could have been avoided with early testing.”

Her words struck a chord, highlighting a crucial shift needed in our approach to reproductive health. It isn’t about waiting for the "right time"; it’s about making informed choices early enough to make a difference. Looking ahead, Mahloul revealed that Ovasave is set to expand its offerings with a new fertility panel designed to diagnose hormonal disorders ranging from PCOS to thyroid conditions, as well as menopause and perimenopause – conditions that are all deeply intertwined with our hormones. “I haven't had a single discussion where a woman didn’t express some health concern,” she noted. “Whether it's about enduring a two-week-long period or constant fatigue without understanding why, our hormones are all over the place, and this isn’t something our parents’ generation had to deal with. Is it the environment? Our lifestyles? I have no clue, but there is something cooking there, and we can either decide to ignore it and cope with the symptoms, or we can take proactive steps for better health outcomes.” Ovasave is empowering women to choose the latter.

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