This S’pore Startup Offers Home-Based STI Screening Kits

Xi Liu, born in China, moved to the United States in 2014 to pursue her master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon University.

While there, she noticed the “marked differences” between the way sexual health care is delivered in the United States and in China.

“I could easily get human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, contraceptives, and full pelvic exams from the campus medical center,” she said.

This prompted her to conduct intensive research into the experiences, perspectives and behaviors of Asian women in gynecology and sexual health.

Her findings motivated her to create an online platform to fill the sexual health gap in Asia. Called Ferne Health, it is touted as Singapore’s first online sexual health platform to provide home STI testing kits.

From Silicon Valley to Singapore

xi liu ferne founder of health
Xi Liu, founder of Ferne Health

Prior to starting Ferne Health, Xi worked in Silicon Valley for tech giants like Amazon and Adobe.

The 28-year-old was a product manager at Amazon Corporate, working with external partners to activate his Alexa voice assistant on devices in other parties.

Before Amazon, she worked as a product designer in Adobe’s Photoshop team.

“During my time in Silicon Valley, I was inspired by emerging tech startups. I decided to champion a cause – to reinvigorate sexual health – that would have a significant impact on daily life, ”she said.

The Ferne Health team began conducting primary research in 2019 and first looked at general women’s health issues such as urinary tract infections (UTI) and HPV testing.

However, research results have shown that although sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common among younger age groups, especially in Southeast Asia, sexual health is still considered a “taboo subject.” ” In the region.

Unlike my American friends who regularly test for STIs, our results have shown that people in Asia rarely talk about or test STIs.

In addition, I learned that delayed treatment of STIs can have serious consequences, including the transmission of infections to infants and the birth of infants with complications. For me, these are tragic consequences that I hope to eliminate.

– Xi Liu, founder of Ferne Health

She noted that while sexual health is important, STI screening is reduced due to stigma or lack of awareness.

That’s why, when she moved to Singapore in January of this year, she decided to work on launching Ferne Health.

Ferne Health is a one-stop healthcare platform that offers home counseling and testing services for their sexual health.

I have decided to make home STI testing kits an essential part of our business to make sexual health testing more accessible to everyone, as well as to change perceptions of STI testing.

– Xi Liu, founder of Ferne Health

According to their research, some of the main reasons people in developed regions discourage regular examinations are inconvenience, privacy, social stigma and cost.

“We want to bring practical and accessible solutions to more consumers and encourage more people to understand their health and their bodies without any stigma.”

Get tested in the privacy of your own home

ferne health sti screening kits
Screenshot of Ferne Health website

The bootstrap startup is currently offering five home self-test kits that screen for cervical cancer and common STIs (for both men and women) on its website, which will be delivered to your door in both. business days after purchase.

Ferne Health’s sampling tools are HSA registered and CE approved, with the sampling tools and testing protocols clinically approved.

Ferne Health Gonorrhea and Chlamydia Screening Kit
Gonorrhea and Chlamydia Screening Kit / Image Credit: Ferne Health

Once a customer receives the kit, they can use the kit ID to record their personal information and health history on their platform.

Customers can then schedule a sample pickup, but it is advisable to arrange for the pickup within 24 hours of collection for best quality results.

Once the results are ready, their partner physicians will deliver the results via the client’s preferred method.

On the one hand, they can choose to receive their results via the partner clinic of Ferne Health iDOC Clinic in Jurong West.

“If the results are positive, a tele-consultation is necessary so that our partner physicians can explain the results in detail and recommend follow-ups, if necessary,” Xi said.

“In case of questions about the kits, consumers can also book a tele-consultation session on the site with our partner doctors.”

She added that out of all of her home testing kits, only one kit requires a blood sample, which is the Peace of Mind Pack, which tests for HIV, syphilis, herpes 1 and 2.

Unlike other countries like USA, UK or China, Singapore does not allow the use of dry blood samples typically used for home testing products, so they have been carefully tailored and adjusted to meet local regulatory requirements.

With the convenience of our customers at the forefront, we have organized an on-site blood drive, which will be performed by our partner doctors at your home or any other location of your choice.

When purchasing this kit, a link will be sent to the customer’s email to allow them to schedule a time slot for the doctor to come.

– Xi Liu, founder of Ferne Health

Xi said they make a point of ensuring convenience at all times, while maintaining confidentiality and trust.

“As a consumer business, we want to ensure the smoothest customer experience possible by minimizing friction during ordering, delivery and sampling.”

Changing the perception of sexual health at S’pore

According to Xi, the traction has been good as they’ve received a lot of email signups and orders for their products.

Cervical cancer
HPV (cervical cancer) screening kit / Image credit: Ferne Health

However, based on their initial research and product testing, they found that there was a lack of knowledge about HPV testing.

This is worrying because HPV infection is apparently the most common STI in sexually active adults. In fact, about 70 to 80 percent of sexually active people become infected with HPV at some point in their lives.

“The virus can be transmitted to women from men who have no symptoms, and two high-risk strains of HPV are directly linked to cervical cancer, which remains the leading cause of death in women in many. country, ”Xi said.

The Singapore government has done a lot to alleviate this with education campaigns and subsidized costs for HPV testing.

However, the Ferne Health survey found that 60% of those surveyed have never had a Pap test or an HPV test, or are even aware of HPV tests.

To address this, we decided to develop sexual health education material on our portal – blog posts that explain women’s sexual health or bodies, as well as collaborate with content creators to help more people. people understand the importance of sexual health.

Our mission is to transform the way people see and talk about sexual health.

– Xi Liu, founder of Ferne Health

Challenges and Opportunities of COVID-19

Leading a young start-up in the midst of a pandemic has proven to be a business challenge, Xi admitted.

When the Breaker first started, it was “extremely difficult” for her to connect with the local startup community and medical experts as trade events and networking sessions were canceled.

“Operationally, during the breaker, as all the labs were busy with COVID-19 testing, Ferne Health was not able to make much progress as many of the planned tests required PCR testing”, a- she added.

firm health
Image Credit: Ferne Health

However, the upside is that the pandemic has triggered an increase in delivery and door-to-door services. In line with this trend, she predicts that home testing and tele-consultation will “gain popularity.”

“People are more comfortable with home care (now) and we hope Ferne Health will be part of this new wave.”

Xi also observed that consumer services are no longer market-centric, but user-centric.

As a strong supporter of a good user experience, she stressed that “the consumer experience is important”.

User experience doesn’t just mean a nice website or a 24/7 customer hotline, but it also encompasses many other factors: product quality, ease of use and accessibility of services.

Providing a good customer experience (is) essential to support and develop businesses.

– Xi Liu, founder of Ferne Health

Sharing her future business plans, Xi said she is looking to expand her services to the rest of Southeast Asia. They plan to enter the markets of Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia by next year.

She added that she hopes to see Ferne Health become the leading sexual health platform in Asia.

“(We want to) serve as a unique companion for people who want to understand, communicate and improve their own sexual health.”

“As a taboo subject in some cultures and religions, sexual health can be overlooked, and most medical institutes active in the field of sexual health also face stigma. We want to create an open platform for everyone to feel free to talk about sexual health. “

Featured Image Credit: Ferne Health

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