‘We want to normalise mental health care’-Nguvu Health CEO, Joshua Koya talks about his startup

Ejike Kanife

There’s an ever-growing mental health problem in Nigeria and indeed Africa. A 2016 study published in the Annals of Nigerian Medicine (ANM) estimates that between 20-30% of the Nigerian population suffer from mental disorders. In 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) pegs this figure at about 50 million, roughly a quarter of the population.

With the deteriorated socio-economic, political and security situation in the country, we can expect that number to have risen quite exponentially in the three and half years since.

'We want to normalise mental health care'-Nguvu Health CEO, Joshua Koya talks about his startup
1 in 4 Nigerians suffers from mental health issues

Pan African health tech startup, Nguvu Health is looking to deploy its solution as part of the fight against this malady. Officially launching its mental health care solution across Africa, the startup, which prides itself as an e-mental health company, is looking to provide on-demand online therapy sessions to Africans anywhere in the world.

Founded by Joshua Koya (CEO) and Tolulope Ogunjuyigbe, the startup helps to provide easy access to affordable therapy sessions to users from the comfort of their smartphones. WHO estimates that fewer than 10% of mentally ill Nigerians have access to the care they need which is not surprising as there are less than 150 psychiatrists in the country.

So how many mental health care providers does Nguvu have on its platform? CEO and co-founder, Joshua Koya told Technext that there are currently 26 therapists onboarded on its app with 50 more in the pipeline. The CEO, however, hopes to have onboarded 1,000 therapists by the end of 2021. These mental health care providers will be from across Africa.

According to research from Nigerian Health Watch, there is still great stigmatization against people with mental health challenges as most Nigerians still think they are “mentally retarded, were a public nuisance and were dangerous because of their violent behaviour.”

Addressing the stigmatization problem and how this could make the country a poor market for mental health solutions, Joshua said this is mostly a concern when people know they are going out to see a therapist, as against consulting with one from the comfort of their homes. He however enumerated several privacy features on the app that protects patients:

“Users can not take screenshots of any part of the android app. This is to curb the ‘screenshot’ rave. Also, there’s a phone security lock required to access the app each time you want to use it. Also, as part of our onboarding process, our therapists sign an NDA to cater for the security of clients’ information and sessions” 

Joshua Koya

He also said the startup will be implementing an anonymity feature that will prevent therapists from knowing exactly who they are speaking with, except the client chooses to reveal his identity. The company is also looking to conduct or support outreach programs and advocacy that would help in public desensitizing.

How Nguvu Health works

'We want to normalise mental health care'-Nguvu Health CEO, Joshua Koya talks about his startup
Nguvu Helath app

Nguvu Health has an android and iOS app which could be downloaded from the respective Playstores. Users can be onboarded after registering on the platform. To be matched with a mental health professional, they will be required to complete a short assessment. Currently, there are over 1,000 users on the platform.

Presently there are 26 therapists on the platform, mostly from Nigeria and Kenya. The startup has plans to onboard a lot more from across Africa before the end of year. According to Joshua, these mental health professionals go through a rigorous onboarding process before joining the panel of therapists.

The company’s technology basically connects users with the licensed mental health professionals through two methods; in-app messaging otherwise called text therapy and video call called video therapy. Sessions can be conducted in both English and Swahili.

The startup charges a base fee of $10 (N3,000 in Nigeria) for a week’s subscription to text therapy or 45 minutes of video therapy session. There are also other monthly subscriptions and quarterly subscriptions.

If a patient is in need of extra support that goes beyond the psychotherapy methods, they would be referred to such centres upon recommendation of the therapist.

Playing a vital role in fighting mental health challenges

As of 2018, the busiest psychiatric hospital in Nigeria, the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, Yaba saw a 22% increase in the number of new patients with different types of mental illnesses. There’s also a 50% increase in the number of patients struggling with substance abuse. With the country reportedly running out of mental health professionals, there’s reason to be afraid of the worst.

Nguvu Health

But Joshua Koya believes it’s not all bleak.

“More mental health facilities are springing up, more independent private practices too. More revenue is going to mental health care than has never been recorded since the turn of the new decade so the story is no longer as bleak as it was 5 years ago,” he said.

He also noted the increased adoption of multidisciplinary treatment (MDT) towards mental health management even in public health institutes and primary health care facilities. He, therefore, believes Nguvu Health is strategically positioning itself to play a critical role in this resurgence for the benefit of both therapists and clients.

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