Rubi Health – Telehealth and Tele-Psychiatry for (expectant) Mothers in Nigeria

Rubi Health – Telehealth and Tele-Psychiatry for (expectant) Mothers in Nigeria

Rubi Health offers psychotherapeutic care in rural hospitals in Nigeria. Their primary target group are (expectant) mothers who are confronted with anxieties during or after pregnancy and suffer from depression.

Through Rubi Health Patients can book therapy hours at affordable prices which take place via video chat in rooms provided by the hospitals. In this way therapists can be connected from anywhere and the shortage of medical personnel can be overcome on site. In addition, Rubi Health organizes regular “health camps“, where thousands of women can have their mental health examined for the first time.

We spoke to the founder Abigail Alabi Michael about how she started building Rubi Health, what her biggest challenge was so far and how she sees herself as a role model for women in Nigeria.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Abigail: I am selfless, I am honest. I am everything to everyone.

Abigail Alabi Michael (Credit: Amin Akhtar/Vodafone Institute)

Take us to the beginning: What was the initial idea, what was your vision that actually made you start your company?

Abigail: The idea is to improve mental health care among women during pregnancy and after pregnancy in Africa. I started my business based on my personal experience, I am a nurse by profession and I studied environmental studies and resource management.

When I became pregnant I realized I have anxiety. During this period, I had to search for therapy in order to seek advice and consultation in what will calm me down with my anxiety. My three months of search for therapy were very stressful because I couldn’t find a qualified therapist. Based on the place where I lived – it was a rural environment – I wanted to talk to a therapist on a continuous basis. I did not want to talk to one therapist one day and to another tomorrow. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one for three months, it was the most stressful time in my life. I was lonely, I couldn’t find help, I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what to do and what to look for.

I quit my job as a nurse and started Rubi Health. Based on my personal experience and based on research, I want to help women. I don’t want them to go through the stress I had searching for a therapist myself. Because I realized many women with serious cases of anxiety and depression, commit suicide or even murder their newborns. During my research I also read about a case where a new mother murdered her newborn baby. When the authorities asked her why she did it, she said she didn’t know who to turn to and she didn’t have the money to feed her baby.

On that same day I read the story, I was depressed and I was emotionally down, so I said to myself: If this lady had had the opportunity to talk to a therapist who would console her and calm her down emotionally she wouldn’t have done that! Who knows what that child would have become?

When I had my baby, I was in a dark place myself. My husband had to travel right after I gave birth. He is a serial entrepreneur and a medical doctor, so he went on a business trip for over four months. For the first four months I was the only one to bathe my baby, to go to markets and do the chores. I was depressed and at some point thought of committing suicide. However, thanks to God I actually found a therapist I could talk to. He advised me to calm down and he prescribed some medication to help be become calmer. If I wouldn’t have talked to a therapist, I don’t know what would have happened.


How did you start building Rubi Health, what were the first three steps?

Abigail:  The first step was to go to rural clinics because I realized that most of the affected women are from rural communities. I was a nurse so I had all of their contacts and was able speak to the MDs and managers of the hospitals.

I started with two clinics. I talked to them and told them about my personal experience and what I can do to help other women. I was asked to come back at a day when new mothers will be onsite so I can talk to them directly. Most of them didn’t believe they have anxiety or that they are depressed, even though it is a common problem with pregnancy or after giving birth.

Secondly, I thought of what else to do, because we have only 240 qualified therapists in all of Nigeria to take care of over 200 million people. We have psychiatric doctors and nurses, but only 240 therapists. 99% of them are based in urban communities; they don’t come to rural areas. I discussed this with my husband and thought about doing something that would connect doctors with these women virtually.

If we were going to do that, we needed money. Therefore, that was the second step. I had to invest my own money, I had to talk to my family and I also asked some people I knew if they could help. They contributed and I was able to do a pilot. I had a laptop and internet connectivity, I setup a website and the description. Then I thought “Why not do community campaigns to raise awareness?”. We started to raise awareness in the community to make sure these women knew what we were doing and how it can help them to reduce the pressure and anxiety.

At the same time I also talked to my husband that we need to hire people who are knowledgeable about this matter and who have a passion to work with us. He contacted some of his friends, I reached to some of my contacts and we started. We are eight people on our team right now.


What were the biggest challenges in the beginning and how did you solve them?

Abigail:  I had two major challenges that I faced. My first challenge was dealing with medical directors. Some of them were trying to date me and flirt with me. That was a really big challenge for me. I told this to my husband, he is a medical doctor and now he is in contact with medical directors which makes it a lot easier.

Another challenge is to get funding, we need to grow fast because a lot of women are going through these problems. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is very large in Nigeria, we have many young entrepreneurs and to get funding is very hard. Except for programs like F-lane where you can get access to talk to an investor or someone who can contribute to the success of your company. Therefore, the second challenge is funding. We need to scale very fast, because the business is growing, we don’t need to hire workforce, we work directly with the staff of the hospitals, so we don’t need to pay anyone except of the shared revenue of the business model.

Olayemi Olamilekan Aryio and Abigail Alabi Michael (Credit: Amin Akhtar/Vodafone Institute)

Those were the challenges. Let’s look at the positive side, what’s a highlight since you started that you will always remember?

Abigail:  Many things. The first one was that I was able to overcome my depression. Secondly, I had two critical cases of women who were very depressed. One of them wanted to kill herself and her child. However, I was able to rescue her. I’m very good at giving advice to people, to calm them down. When I talk to them, they calm down even if they go through a lot of stress. That was a very happy moment for me, I was able to literally keep her alive by giving her my support.

The second one was a case of a woman who was trying to conceive over five years, but she couldn’t get pregnant. As soon as she got pregnant, she started faced mental health problems. I told her to connect with one of the therapists and after advising her, she came back to me and thanked me for helping her. She told me that she didn’t even know that her condition was something other pregnant women also have.  She thought she was somehow cursed.

The lady spoke to one of the senior therapists and she is still seeing him. That is one of the advantages of Rubi Health over other platforms: You can use any of your languages and talk to any of the doctors who understands your language. In addition, you continue talking to the same therapist, not one today and another one tomorrow. I connected her to her current therapist and they continued their sessions until the baby was about two years old. She was very happy.

These are two major cases, although there are several of them, these were critical ones. I am happy that through me, depression among pregnant women is reducing. I started with just two women and nowadays Rubi Health has impacted thousands of people! We’ve done 10000 sessions, we impact 2500 women every month.


Where will Rubi Health be in three years?

Abigail:  I hope we get the right connection and investment opportunity. My vision is to ensure happy women and happy communities in Africa. I see Rubi Health as a big community in the future in at least in five or six countries in Africa. We started in Nigeria, we have done our registration in Rwanda and in a few months’ time – if we are able to secure investment – we also want to expand to Ghana. Our goal is to ensure that pregnant women are happy through their pregnancy as well as after giving birth, we want to reduce depression and build a happy community.


What are the next two to three steps for you?

Abigail: The first one is to secure investment, to make my vision a reality. The second is to continue with the work I am doing, to reach affected women. I will also start campaigning to advice women through social media, to do a social media campaign in order to calm them down, even though they are not (yet) coming to a clinic directly – at least seeing the post alone will hopefully help them a bit before connecting to a therapist.

In addition, the goal is to build a mobile application as a part of the investment, because that will help a lot, that way we will reach thousands of people. Over 100 million of the Nigerian population are women and we are doing what we can reach more women – in the urban centers as well as in the rural communities. We want to have a mobile application that can reach millions of women in Nigeria and in Africa.


You are impacting a lot of women already, but we only focused on women that you are building a program for. How do you see your role as a female founder, what is your responsibility – let’s say as a role model – for other women in the region?

Abigail:  I see myself as a big role model for women and I will always try my best to because I know my background. Three years after my mother gave birth to me, my dad came and took me away. I went through a lot in life to become what I am today. I know what I’ve been through in life and whenever I talk to someone, for example on a conference or a meeting, they usually see me as a role model already. Because of the things I’ve been through in life, I advise young women. I am a role model for women and I will always be one. I will continue to advise them, put them on the right path and always make sure everything is alright in the community of women.


What would be your message for aspiring female founders?

Abigail:  Never relent in pushing success, because to get to success is not an easy task. Nevertheless, with consistent work and the belief in God you will reach your goal.

Secondly, be as honest as possible, because when you’re not honest, at the end of the day, when people find out you are trying to trick them, it will definitely come back to you. So believe in yourself, be honest and believe in God.