The traditional model of human society was highly patriarchal. We see the tell-tale signs of this form of society in all forms of cultures, religious evolutions, perspectives, even traditions. However, our society today is evolving into a better sphere, one that will allow more openness, more kindness, and more care for all of its members equally with the hope equity becomes more normal. While some cultures and civilizations have adopted new ways by leaps and bounds, some developing nations have just started to reform. History has proven to us that reform comes with a new wave of business opportunities because suddenly, reforms lead to better solutions to age-old problems.
Maya, a digital-first health-tech platform, is on a trailblazing journey to provide better, accessible healthcare in the region having first launched in Bangladesh, Srilanka and now in Pakistan. What started off as an inspired mission to help mothers-to-be find a stigma-free space to explore and understand their bodies and this new phase of life, soon became a mission to leverage technology and provide better healthcare opportunities to everyone.
Maya came into existence when Ivy, Founder at Maya, became pregnant with her daughter Ameena, which gave Ivy a startling insight into how tough a time women had accessing healthcare in a country like Bangladesh. She realized that accessible healthcare was the need of the hour, especially for women who were entering a new, unknown phase of their lives. Maya’s inception and journey were also majorly influenced by Ivy’s mother’s fight with breast cancer and subsequent depression. Ivy launched Maya after witnessing her mother’s pain first hand, naming the platform after her.
As she observed the culture around pregnancy, prenatal care & care around taboo topics such as breast cancer, depression in the country, she noticed a very big gap between these women and the access they had to reliable, scientifically correct information and care; even in urbanized areas. Upon realizing this, Ivy launched Maya, an informational blog, which has now evolved into a mobile application serving millions of users to date with hundreds of on-demand experts.
Where The Road Has Taken Maya
In countries like Bangladesh, and even in the region, women don’t talk openly about their sexual and reproductive health. Even though societies in these countries have evolved greatly, these topics still hold a taboo when it comes to talking about them. Cultural influences like these usually make the pages of crucial sex education and reproductive health education thinner than a marketing booklet.
Maya took a digital approach to this problem leveraging technology, with the goal of having a larger impact on the lives of millions of women. Maya provided women with the option of seeking consultations regarding their health and mental health anonymously, shielding them from societal shame, yet empowering them with the knowledge they needed.
Over time the start-up continued to invest in developing digital self-care products that assisted women in tracking their periods, following pregnancy journey, anxiety/depression checker, and most importantly, the care they needed for their physical and mental wellbeing. Maya also received questions on birth control, family planning, and medical care for their partners.
In recent years, Maya also started getting anonymous questions about mental health from her users. Soon Ivy and her team realized that just like sexual and reproductive health, mental health was a sensitive and difficult topic to have open conversations about or even seek in-person consultations. Hence, over the course of the next few months, along with gynecologists, Maya also collaborated with psychotherapy consultants, creating a safe space for women to talk about their mental health. Through the years, Maya has served over 1 million female users, who have taken Maya’s aid either via messaging or on-demand video calls.
The Big Pivot / Technological enhancement / Technological advancement
In 2015, Maya received its initial funding, which helped Maya become a mobile-first, and Bangla-first platform for female healthcare assistance. However, data revealed that almost 40% of Maya users were male! With only 6 doctors for every 10,000 people in Bangladesh (as opposed to 26 in the USA and 58 in the UK) and growing popularity among all genders and backgrounds, there would be a rising scalability issue unless Maya could innovate through technologies. This caused a big shift in Maya’s approach towards their mission. Since then, Maya invested resources and time in AI & NLP with the aim to provide rapid access to accurate information for both men and women, through the delivery of high-quality, primary health and mental health consultations guided by doctors and therapists. They have developed a team of annotators, labelers and worked on the NLP corpus of Bengali Language which did not have a digital footprint before. Maya was the first in the world to develop Bengali NLP and with the dataset of 6 million consultations being tokenized, we developed the corpus of Urdu, Hindi, and Arabic.
NLP technology allows the software to recognize the language that consists of words and phrases that are rather colloquial. It then uses Artificial Intelligence to solve various healthcare problems but always with a human expert in the loop.
This NLP was developed by Maya’s team over the course of two years to enable precision in recognition hence, supporting the error-free provision of services. The company has collaborated with expert data scientists, linguists, and they were one of the only start-ups from Bangladesh to be in Google Launchpad’s accelerator program. They worked on tokenization and training its machine learning algorithms to better optimize their NLP technology.
Now, Maya can provide automated responses in Bengali to basic questions with a staggering 95% accuracy rate in 400+ topics, ranging from common health-related issues such as menstruation to something as critical as cyberbullying. The platform has generated millions of queries so far. Maya’s digital-first approach has enabled the platform to cater to 50% of these queries to be answered with the help of AI tech.
Maya has also invested in using Big data and AI to better understand user query and their symptoms. Based on this, Maya can better understand their users’ personal needs. Maya provides many ‘freemium’ services to their users such as chatbots, BMI calculator, instant consultation, period tracker, pregnancy week-by-week, and a library of free articles. The amount of value that Maya brings to its users through free services is what sets them apart from other similar service providers in the market making Maya one of the unique startups catering to the bottom of the pyramid.
Maya’s Proud Moments
In 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic experts from Maya performed follow-up calls of Corona suspected callers on a regular basis, a list provided by the A2i team. Over the period of the pandemic, Maya so far made around 2200 calls and we as a company take pride in being able to contribute.
On the occasion of ACI Group’s 25th anniversary in 2018, Maya’s CEO, Ivy Huq Russell was awarded a memento as recognition for her contribution to the health sector of the country.
Over time Maya received many national and international awards and got featured on various platforms, being one of the few startups that got featured in the NY Times.
- Maya received the mBillionth and Manthan Women’s Empowerment awards
- Maya is the only company from Bangladesh to get a shout from Sheryl Sandberg
- Ivy was invited as a Guest speaker at Facebook’s flagship “F8” annual developer conference in San Francisco
- Maya launched Bangladesh’s first healthcare AI, powered by local NLP.
- Maya received Recipient of Bangladesh ICT Ministry Innovation Award
- Maya was the first-ever and Only company from Bangladesh to be accepted in Google Launchpad Accelerator in Silicon Valley.
- On 2nd Feb 2018 Maya partnered with Dialog, a subsidiary of Axiata Digital, to license our technology and deliver services in Sri Lanka.
- In 2018-19, Team Maya participated in the Spring Foundation Accelerator, which took place in San Francisco, Nepal, and India
- During the first wave of covid-19, Maya teamed up with the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, one of the largest trade associations in the country, to provide health services to ready-made garment workers for free.
- Raised $2.2M seed funding led by Anchorless & Osiris Group and got featured in Techcrunch and TechInAsia
- Featured in Google I/O annual developer conference, and quoted by VP Jason Titus
- Launched in Pakistan
- Launched video call consultations
- Launched Pharmacy delivery & Lab referral business units
- Launched on-demand video call from the app
Over the period of last 6 years Maya had:
- 4M downloads
- 6M consultations to date
- close to 50K prescription to date (launched at the end of 2021)
With 150+ experts pool in the platform, Maya has a large number of returning customers to the app for consultations. Maya is continuously working to reduce the time to connect to doctors which at the moment is an average of 5 minutes through instant video calls. With Improved processes in logistics and partnerships, Maya is able to provide home sample collection and medicine delivery within 2 hours inside the capital city, Dhaka.
The Road Ahead
Maya is on a mission to transform the way we access healthcare and wants to expand its operations in other countries including UAE, India, Indonesia, Egypt, and other emerging markets. Using the core pool of data/tech available will allow for cross-referencing in healthcare behavioral patterns for Maya to move upmarket and move into similar markets. Maya aims to develop a holistic 360-degree solution through continued investment in technology and ethical ai to better pair patients with doctors and make ordering medicines and diagnostics easier; while keeping in mind the importance of security and privacy which is crucial to our users.
In the long run, Maya also wants to bridge the online and offline gap and aid a societal transformation through digital transformation. This would mean exploring collaborations with hospitals, insurance companies, clinics, etc. to assist people with their health care needs – With Maya’s virtual assistant mobile app and website, empowerment in Bangladesh and in the region is now not only available & accessible but something that women and girls can literally carry with them anywhere.