In a first of its kind in Africa, two local healthcare start-ups, Epione Health Villages and Vimbo Health, announced a partnership to promote mental health therapy and offer affordable, tech-enabled help to Epione Health Villages patients.
The partnership is a proactive approach to combating the high costs associated with mental illness and a shortage of clinicians through the use of technology.
The impact of Covid-19, work-related stress, disease, poverty, and gender-based violence, coupled with the economic struggles South Africans face, are just some of the factors that have contributed to the mental health deterioration of a substantial portion of the population in recent years.
In South Africa, there is a significant lack of funds at the national level to offer affordable mental health treatment.
Only 5% of the national health budget has been allocated to mental health, while only 50% of public hospitals offering mental health services have a psychiatrist and about 30% do not have a clinical psychologist [as of October 2019.
The last World Health Organization mental health survey estimated that 30% of South Africans will suffer from a mental disorder2 over the course of their lifetime. In addition to this, a 2019 study estimated that 92% of South Africans with a mental health condition are not in any form of care3.
Patients suffering from mental illness are often unsure where to get help. It is important that they are properly assessed and accurately diagnosed by their GP when can then connect them with a platform like Vimbo Health as a first point of contact, with further referral to a mental health specialist as and when needed.
General practitioners are often the first to identify possible difficulties with anxiety and depression. They are, however, constrained in what they can offer patients who cannot afford further psychological assistance or are likely to avoid seeking help due to stigma.
Vimbo Health, the digital mental health platform is a self-guided tool that offers a low stigma and affordable first step into the journey of mental health for such patients, which they can take immediately to improve their well-being as a whole (particularly in the case of mild difficulties) or whilst waiting for further care.
Founder of Epione Health Villages, Garikai Govati, comments, “While mental health facilities are available, most patients are discouraged by the associated costs and long waiting times. This partnership will allow all our patients to enjoy a full spectrum of services available to them affordably and conveniently”.
He adds: “Mental health is one of our main priorities as Epione Health Villages. Collaborating with Vimbo Health enables our practitioners to refer patients with the assurance that they will get immediate access to the help they need while effectively managing the cost of such services. We view Vimbo as a digital alternative first point of contact on their mental health journey.”
Vimbo Health is a digital therapy platform that provides evidence-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) based techniques.
Tafi Mazikana, Vimbo Health CEO, adds, “There is overwhelming and growing global evidence for the effectiveness of digital therapeutics in reducing common symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Our deep experience in digital mental health has enabled us to create a safe and effective solution, in accordance with scientifically proven CBT principles and tested locally through ethically approved research in partnership with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.”
This partnership will enable the startups to further bridge the gap of the stigma that deters many South Africans from taking their first step toward building better mental health skills.
“A significant portion of our current workload includes mental health in one way or another. An immediately accessible and evidence-based digital solution like Vimbo Health gives us something hugely useful to offer our patients while we wait to see if medication works or we are able to refer to a psychologist or psychiatrist where appropriate. I am excited to see how this will benefit, in particular, our more financially challenged patients” concludes Dr Samantha Fee, the Clinical Director at Epione Health Village Rosebank.
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