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Interview with Marissa Fayer

CEO, HERhealthEQ; President, Fayer Consulting; EVP Health Strategy and Outreach, DeepLook Medical; Venture Partner, Assiduity Capital

1. Please share your short bio and how did you end up sitting where you are today?

I’ve been in the medical device field for more than 20 years – and I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve launched 3 companies and sit on the board of 5 start-up’s – but my priority, and what has kept me engaged in the medtech sector for so long – is my passion for improving the lives and health outcomes for women around the world. It’s the reason why I founded HERHealthEQ, which brings refurbished and unused medical equipment to remote regions in developing economies.

This commitment comes from discovering science at a young age – and all of the problem-solving potential that comes with it. Don’t get me wrong, back then young women weren’t encouraged to study science as they are today. I was very fortunate to have the support of my family and teachers to explore my love of STEM. I was all about Space Camps (and was often one of only a few girls in the programs), participated in every science fair and also learned about the world through the lens of science and exploration. Later, in college, I studied engineering.

Eventually I landed in the medical device sector where I’ve had the opportunity to work at some of the leading medtech and diagnostics companies including Hologic, Olympus (formerly ACMI), Maquet-Getting (formerly Atrium Medical), Providien Medical, and Accumed Innovative Technologies. I also advise clients from Fortune 500s to innovative start-ups in the life sciences sector.

2. Tell us more about HERhealthEQ

As I was making my start in the medical device industry, I had the good fortune of working with truly innovative companies that promoted women’s health. While we’ve made advancements to detect breast, cervical, and uterine cancers in women in the developed world, the rates of cancer in women are devastatingly high in the Global South. Living abroad in developing countries added a new layer to my understanding of choice and health equity, and this discrepancy is one that I feel we can and must solve. We have the tools and the knowledge to improve health outcomes for women all around the world, and I realized this was the path for me.

HERhealthEQ is a nonprofit and we bring much needed, advanced medical devices to underserved communities to help improve the health outcomes of women – and address easily diagnosable and treatable medical issues because of the lack of equipment available in remote regions. We partner with leading medical device manufacturers and hospitals to secure donations of new or refurbished equipment by working directly with local hospitals, government agencies and NGOs on the ground in the developing world. In addition to equipment, HERhealthEQ solutions include training, accountability and long-term relationships to sustain lasting health improvement for women in their communities.

I am proud to say that, since we launched in 2016, HERHealthEQ has equipped communities in 7 countries, including Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Vietnam, India, the US, and Jamaica, among others, impacting more than 27,000 women to date. HERhealthEQ is on track to achieve its goal to impact the lives of one million women by the end of 2025.

3. How different is the women’s health industry in developing countries?

Living abroad added a new layer to my understanding of choice and health equity. I connected with people who had fewer material possessions but were often much happier with their lives. I came to realize that wealth couldn’t be reduced to money alone, but encompasses all aspects of life, where the concept of wealth can look very different from culture to culture.

At the same time, there is a huge gap in how life in the Global South is valued compared to the rest of the world. We should not accept the fact that millions of people in the Global South die prematurely from diseases that are easily preventable. And it’s not from a lack of technology or resources – the issues are much more fundamental, like having access to potable water. I was startled to read a WHO report that found that 1.8 billion people are at heightened risk of COVID-19 and other diseases because they use or work in health care facilities without basic water services.

The data on non-communicable diseases is just as devastating, and it’s one of the reasons HERhealthEQ is so focused in this area. Each year, 15 million people die from an NCD between the ages of 30 and 69 years, and over 85% of these "premature" deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Diagnosis of breast cancer rose 0% from 2008 to 2013, with 62% of deaths occurring in low-income countries. And more than more than 90% of cervical cancer deaths occur in women living in low- and middle- income countries.

So when you look at the state of healthcare in developing economies, it’s almost impossible to describe the extreme inequity because the most basic essential services and needs are not available. This is what drives me to do what I do.

4. What gets you excited about the women’s health industry?

There is so much potential to improve the health outcomes for women – and the medical device industry has been a leader in this area. But healthcare needs to be equitable. There are inherent challenges in getting new innovations and technologies to communities in need, but we are proving that it can be done in a sustainable, financially viable and inclusive way.

I chose to focus on top healthcare issues affecting women – including maternal health, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease – because these NCDs are driving female mortality disproportionately compared to men, they are easily diagnosable and treatable with the proper resources, and addressing non-communicable diseases is a sustainable approach to improving women’s health over time.

I am also getting excited about the financial focus that the women’s health sector is starting to obtain. While it is paltry when compared to almost any other health condition and most other industries, it is trending upwards… finally. Consumers and investors are also starting to understand that women’s health is entire body health and that it’s not limited to fertility.

5. Which women's symptoms are ignored and which health problems are under-researched?

Anything other than fertility is often ignored and under-researched. That is not to say fertility issues aren’t important, they are.. But they are a developed market problem and one that isn’t causing premature deaths for conditions that can be detected, prevented, or treated.

Additionally, NCD’s are often ignored because they are considered primary care screenings in developed markets thus the assumption that the same is true throughout the world. Which is completely false and overlooked. NCD’s are killing millions of women globally and are contributing factors to continued poverty, low education rates for girls, and lack of community development. Related to NCD’s, the detection, prevention, and screening of NCD’s requires different technologies in low resource countries and the lack of development for the technologies is under-funded and under-researched.

6. What is the biggest challenge you've faced while working in the women's health sector?

One of the biggest challenges is getting the best possible healthcare to the communities that need it. When I was living and working in Costa Rica, I saw people forced to weigh possibly life-saving care for themselves or an ailing loved one, against feeding other members of the family, even when universal healthcare is provided. Health is a fundamental human right.

In thinking about the work we are doing at HERhealthEQ, our biggest challenge is a goal that we set to impact the lives of one million women by 2025. This means there is a huge amount of equipment that will need to be deployed, and programs that will need to be up and running all around the world. This also means that, like with any nonprofit or social enterprise, we are seeking partners and funders. We don’t set up clinics or put our teams in the field, we work with local NGOs who have the knowledge of the affected communities, their specific needs and the expertise and qualifications to put medical technology to good use. There are so many organizations, clinics and NGOs doing great work. They just need the equipment and assistance to be able to help their patients.

And there’s another aspect to the work we do, which is supporting hospitals and medical device manufacturers with their sustainability and social impact goals. There is a significant CSR benefit to medtech companies that don’t have the bandwidth to set up these types of initiatives.Our work drives results and impact – because we build long-lasting partnerships based on trust, respect and accountability. And we can be the catalyst to ensure everyone has access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering hardship.



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