Nigeria’s Cogno-Aid aims to provide easy access to therapists

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Mental health is a rarely discussed subject psrticularly in Africa, amongst both the old and the young populations. This is alarming as suicide is a problem yet to be solved. Paula Aliu is a young motivated lady from Nigeria, whose startup aims to bridge the gap between people and therapists. Techmoran had an interesting interview with her to find out exactly how she is doing this.

CEO Cogno-Aid Paula Aliu

Tell us about yourself, your team, educational backgrounds
I am Paula Aliu, CEO of Cogno-Aid. My experience with software-based service delivery start-ups began in 2012, when I was recruited as part of a team to build a Poultry Management System for medium to large scale Poultry farmers in Nigeria. My experience in software development includes but isn’t limited to Web Application development and Mobile Application development. I have a BSc in Computer Engineering from the University of Lagos Nigeria.
Anita Aliu, Client Support: Anita’s experience with Software-based service delivery start-ups began in 2012, which saw her being recruited as part of a team to simplify learning and preparations for national exams in Nigeria. Anita’s has a BSc in Electrical Electronics Engineering and MSc in Advanced Control Systems from the University of Lagos Nigeria and Manchester respectively.

How would you describe your company? What does it do, what is it’s ultimate objective?
Cogno-Aid is an Online Therapy Service that allows Clients the ability to have Standard Remote Psycho-Therapy (Talk-Therapy) sessions with Mental Health Therapists. Unlike Physical Psycho-Therapy sessions, Cogno-Aid eliminates the need to travel to the Mental Health institutions whilst offering cheaper and exclusive access to Therapists.

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What motivated you to get into the mental health space?
While at university, I noticed that mental health was rarely spoken about. Peers and community members who suffered from PTSD, anxiety, or depression hid their struggles, or were treated for spiritual ailments by well-meaning but uninformed family members. Suicide was rarely discussed as suicide. Many people aren’t aware that if someone is acting strange, it does not necessarily mean the person is possessed by the devil or a demon, They don’t know that there are people that can actually help you. In Nigeria, the problem is compounded by the fact that access to therapists is limited. Hospitals and institutions focus on treating patients with severe psychiatric disorders, and many people avoid seeking help for fear of being stigmatized.

What had been the greatest challenge you faced since the inception of the company?
I have faced several challenges. From a technological standpount, access to good internet by potential users to facilitate video and voice calls is still a major issue. From a social standpoint, getting people to see this as an option to seeking help and as an augmentation of exisiting mental health treatments.

What is your experience being a woman in technology? Any upsides? Any challenges?
It’s been wonderful. Right from school, I have been blessed to have great role models that inspire me to be better and wonderful critics that remind me to check my decisions and actions.
Upsides: Hmmm… the ability to use technology to offer an alternative to identify and offer solutions to existing problems.
Challenges: None that I can think of.

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Do you think the attitude towards mental health in Nigeria is changing for the better?
I think We are making improvements, a particular point of reference is the way our Nigerian films present mental health issues in recent times. However, we still have a long road ahead; we need to enlighten people across several age demographics about mental health. Improve funding and access to mental health institutions etc.

How is one sure that whatever they discuss remains private?
Once registered on the Cogno-Aid platform, matched to a therapist and after purchasing a subscription plan, you can make video and voice calls alongside send messages through our web application. Cogno-Aid does not record any calls and we don’t save messages as per our privacy policy. Also when signing up you are not required to give your name. Your name and other details maybe required if the therapist feels you need to be seen in a physical mental health institute.

Client acquisition must be hard, especially in Africa where mental health is largely disregarded, what is your impact so far? In terms of users.. How many people reached?
I can give specific details because of privacy and stigma, however we Cogno-Aid has had around 20 -25 users since our official launch in May/June 2017. Several mor people have reached out to us but several factors have prevented them from using our platform. A major factor has been internet as i mentioned earlier.

Is the communication anonymous?
If by anonymous you mean Cogno-Aid doesn’t save details, yes. Upon sign-up, you only need an email address. If a user wants to provide additional details to help us serve them better, later on that is up to the user.

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How does Cogno-Aid make money?
Cogno-Aid offers a Subscription-based service purchasable through its Platform. For each subscription plan purchased, Cogno-Aid gets 40% of the amount.