Africa
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African Influencers For Development 

Onkgopotse Nanike Khumalo

The Pocket Couch COVID-19 Mental Healthcare Forum

(South Africa)

An online platform responding to the mental challenges that Covid-19 is presenting. Pocket Couch enables psychologists to conduct virtual consultations, to help make mental healthcare accessible, yet affordable.

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO CREATE POCKET COUCH?
The Pocket Couch was born out of my own personal experience with burnout, anxiety and depression. Having experienced it myself and sadly, lost some friends to suicide along the way, I had an undeniable urge to figure out how to solve what was clearly a global phenomenon. – or at least, be a part of the solution.

With the advent of the COVID19 pandemic, our collective mental health is increasingly at risk. I felt it necessary to launch a free community-based forum where users can sign up and get help from verified mental healthcare practitioners. It is a shared space where anyone can seek mental health help. And should they choose to do so, users can also anonymously share their experiences amongst themselves.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE IMPACT SO FAR?
Since we launched our COVID19 mental health support forum, around 40 mental health practitioners have registered for verification on our platform, and we have seen a 106% increase in user visits to the forum. From the engagements on social media, we can see that there is a definite need for a platform like this during this difficult time.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES YOU HAVE FACED SO FAR IN DEPLOYING YOUR SERVICE AND WHAT HELP WOULD YOU NEED TO SCALE UP
AND IMPROVE YOUR OFFERING?
Legislative restrictions. Up until the COVID19 pandemic struck, the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA) historically did not have clear guidelines around telemedicine in general,. As such it proved difficult to operate from a position of sound and clear principles. COVID19 however has prompted South African health care regulators, medical funders and the like, to be more adaptable to online therapy given the limitations on movement across the country. We are hoping that this will be the start of a new normal for online therapy services across the country and other related health tech businesses. We also face the challenge of access to capital and we are looking for means to expand our team to include a diverse set of skill sets but particularly across the software engineering and psychology space.

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR HOPES FOR THE FUTURE OF YOUR INNOVATION?
I am passionate about social justice and leveraging technology and innovation to advance related causes. Of particular importance to me is democratizing access to mental health care especially across the African continent. Ultimately we envision creating an entire ecosystem of mental health care resources, from therapy through to access to psychiatrists. We would also like to make therapy accessible in as many South African languages as possible. We would also like to partner with mobile and internet providers to zero-rate, some of our platform’s core features, to limit data costs which may be excluding vulnerable people from accessing our service.

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