Yudara Kularathne almost lost his friend because of a one-night stand.
His friend was losing sleep and was consumed by suicidal thoughts, stemming from the fear of contracting HIV. Online disinformation surrounding the disease only made it worse for him, adding fuel to his nightmare.
Yudara swore to never let his friend, or anyone else, to end up in the same situation again.
Conversations surrounding sexual health have always been kept hush in Singapore and are often seen as taboo.
Determined to erase this social stigma of men seeking professional treatment for sexual transmitted diseases (STD), Yudara conceived the idea for HeHealth, an AI-enabled sexual health and wellness company that specialises on penis health.
Through HeHealth, users just need to answer a few questions and send in a picture of their penis to be run through an AI.
The AI will then produce a prompt diagnosis which will come with instructions on what to do next, delivered with strict anonymity. No user data will be collected – and that includes names, contact numbers, and email addresses, to anonymise data from the start.
Singapore is still fairly conservative – there is a fear and stigma of seeing a doctor to seek advice and to get sexual health screening. This stigma and fear stops most people from making an appointment toget tested.
On top of that, most people feel as if they are battling STDs alone.
Uncomfortable sharing their problems with friends and family, they often feel isolated and depressed and resort to the myriad of irrelevant and false information online on STDs.
When people turn to crowd diagnosis, this often leads to more panic, confusion and inaccurate self-diagnosis.
Additionally, according to Yudara, 50 per cent of all STD related diagnoses happens between 14 to 90 days after symptoms appear. This delay often leads to a lot of complications.
With HeHealth’s AI-enabled healthcare solution for penis health, all penis-owners can address the most sensitive health issues on their penises early.
During COVID-19, Yudara saw a lot of gaps in the healthcare industry which could be bridged using technology, such as AI.
AI has proved to be a powerful tool for solving complex problems and accelerating innovation.
While AI is utilised well in all industries such as engineering, media, space technologies, it is generally less adopted in healthcare.
During his time as an emergency physician, he saw that Singapore was not able to cope well during the pandemic, even when equipped with the one of the best health care systems in the world. Even right now, The Straits Times has reported a severe bed crunch in public hospitals.
This, Yudara decided, was something that he wanted to change.
“It was obvious that technology and innovation was the way to move forward, and to better prepare for a future pandemic.”Yudara Kularathne, co-founder of HeHealth
“It was obvious that technology and innovation was the way to move forward, and to better prepare for a future pandemic.”
Taking a leap of faith, he decided to learn about AI at MIT in 2020. He wanted to incorporate the best technology into HeHealth after seeing how AI has transformed almost every industry.
HeHealth is Yudara’s first venture, and its first working version was launched April this year. The development of the app took close to 18 months, with most of the time spent developing the AI technology.
HeHealth’s first-of-its-kind, patent-pending AI-powered tool screens for visually recognisable STDs through user-submitted pictures.
Most visually recognisable STDs have very distinct patterns and symptoms, but in cases where a user is experiencing a rash that looks generic, HeHealth’s diagnosis will indicate a low accuracy. In this instance, it will still advise users to get tested for possible STDs.
“We have around 90 per cent accuracy in common STDs in our in-vitro studies, but this needs to bevalidated in large studies, which we are planning right now,” revealed Yudara.
“We have explained this clearly in our app, since this is a technology which is still undergoing rapid developments. We are planning to get FDA approval in the future, and only then, it can be completed.”
But success rarely ever comes without struggle.
Many of Yudara’s peers were sceptical about his project, deeming it an ‘impossible task’. They were concerned about the lack of support from medical doctors.
Even his colleagues and administrators did not believe that some of HeHealth’s innovations were technically possible – deeming it a joke.
The sentiments around HeHealth has mainly stayed the same, even with its current group of investors.
Despite that, Yudara kept his vision close and did not take the comments to heart, believing that all men should have a safe and available option to turn to in case they are too embarrassed or are unable to visit an STD clinic.
However, in truth, some of his friends’ concerns were valid. Establishing HeHealth was an uphill battle, with Yudara pulling all-nighters, discussing with engineers and fellow doctors to develop the app based on a pool of medical data.
But when the app finally launched, the initial response to the app was overwhelming. “It wasn’t easy keeping up – the app was down for over a month,” said Yudara.
Yudara did not establish HeHealth alone. HeHealth’s co-founder and Yudara’s other half, Lu Mei Ling, played a vital role in the app’s development.
Having worked for big pharmaceutical firms in North America, as well as equipped with a strong background in startups and business, Mei Ling was essential in smoothening out the user experience of HeHealth.
The user experience of the app was the key to making its screening process more accessible and efficient.
The overwhelming response HeHealth received from its launch onboarded more doctors and engineers, as well as piqued the interest of investors. The number of HeHealth users and downloads also steadily increases every single day.
Currently, HeHealth is officially ten months old, and has managed to help close to 25,000 people around the world to better understand their penis health. More than 1000 people were able to get their STDs diagnosed early.
“We proved them wrong in some way. But I have to say this is a humble beginning, and bigger challenges are ahead of us,” said Yudara.
Currently, HeHealth’s sexual health screening is completely free.
HeHealth will be pivoting into a more sustainable business model in the future, where it plans to charge a fee for services beyond the initial complimentary STD screening. These services include telemedicine, testing, and treatment through the app.
The company is also raising a seed round of funding.
Other than pivoting to a more profitable business model, HeHealth also hopes to upgrade the platforms with more accessible functions, including a function to detect Monkeypox.
“We want to be the 360 technology provider for the Men’s sexual health issues, so they get the care that they deserve.”
Featured Image Credit: HeHealth
Also read: Giving clothes a second life: How these S’pore brands are paving the way for sustainability
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