Friday, July 22, 2022

USA Africa Dialogue Series - African Mental Health Start Ups need more funding by Tony Ademiluyi

The technology space in Africa is getting more exciting as Fintech is now the new oil. Who could have believed that the biggest tech start up in Africa – Flutterwave – barely six years old could be valued at about $3 billion? They got an investment of $250 million in Series D funding this year. This beats the record of many African companies. Pay Stack was sold to Stripe when it was barely five years old for a whooping $200 million.

It is no news that Fintech accounts for over 90% of the funding that comes from abroad into the tech sector.

Next to Fintech is ed tech start ups as the likes of ulesson, gidi mobile, prep class etc have gotten modest funding from foreign investors.

Mental Health Start ups seem to be at the bottom end of the spectrum as they hardly attract funding. There is no health without mental health goes the old cliché by the pioneer D-G of the WHO so what could be responsible for the dearth of funding for this important sector that according to the House of Representatives in Nigeria has over 20 million sufferers?

Firstly, there is ignorance of the ailment by many patients in the continent. Many don't seek help until its too late and a substantial population still believe that mental illness is an attack from the devil which makes them more at home in dubious and questionable spiritual homes who only worsen matters.

Secondly, most patients prefer to physically visit their psychiatrists no matter how long the distance is. They lack faith in telemedicine despite the massive penetration of internet enabled phones in Africa. This habit puts off investors as they can only scale when there is a large online user base.

Thirdly, most public policies in Africa relegate mental health practice to the background as there is currently a mass exodus of the best hands abroad for greener pasture. No investor will come into a country where only the second eleven are left to take care of the huge number of patients. It wouldn't make any economic sense and would have a miniscule impact on the bottom line.

Fourthly, most mental health advocates do not realize that there is a business side to mental health advocacy. They look at it solely from the prism of running a charity and generally ignore the business side of things. Many mental health start ups in the West are Unicorns and have attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in investor funding. This mind set has to change if Africa is to make remarkable progress.

As reported by Bloomberg, a Swedish nonprofit, The Inner Foundation focused on mental health recently got a grant of $101 million over a twenty-year period from one of the early financial backers of Spotify. This is good news for mental health advocacy and we hope that the noble work done by African mental health advocates can be recognized and appreciated with such kind of massive funding. More importantly however, we hope that mental health entrepreneurs can surmount the gargantuan odds in Africa to be able to attract massive funding both foreign and local as that will lead to job creation and reduce the stigmatization of the mentally challenged through massive economic empowerment of them.

The fact that about 100 million mentally challenged are resident in Africa represents a huge opportunity for mental health entrepreneurs to meet their needs and get financially rewarded for doing so.

Africa is still a virgin and untapped continent with enormous opportunities. For mental health and intending mental health entrepreneurs, I say do not give up, be unconventional in your approach and treat mental health like any other business under the sun.

Cheers to your success!

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