Using technology to give people access to mental health professionals

Breaking the barriers of social stigma

shezlong, digital boom

Although Egypt’s mental health policy was formulated back in 1978, the Egyptian government only spends 2% of its already meager national healthcare budget (3.4% of the national budget) on mental health and 59% of this budget is spent on public mental health hospitals.

In a 2015 report from the General Secretariat of Mental Health and Addiction Treatment, it was  revealed that more than 12% of adults in Egypt had mental disorders and some sources put that number at 17%, that’s anywhere from 5 to 7 million people. If you compare that with the actual capacity of the mental health sector as reported by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights being 15 hospitals, 62 clinics and 600 mental health practitioners, it becomes easy to realize the that system is not equipped to handle a problem of this magnitude. Combine that with the social stigma attached to mental disorders, the concerns about security and privacy and it’s easy to see why and how many patients find it difficult to find and receive the treatment they need.

There is certainly a market need and a real problem and that’s why Endure Capital, A15, and Angel Investor and former Senior Vice President at WebMD Karim Hussien are joining forces and investing 1.5M EGP in Shezlong. “We love ideas and startups that are the product of a real need and that have come to exist in order to address and solve a real problem in the community. That is what first attracted our attention to Shezlong and is ultimately a key reason why we invested in the team,” said A15 CEO, Fadi Antaki.

Shezlong is the first telemedicine platform in the MENA region to focus on mental health. It provides convenient and private counselling services through connecting individuals with licensed therapists using online audio and video technology. Today Shezlong is growing at 20% month over month with therapists from 6 countries serving clients in over 65 countries.  In the future, Shezlong’s growth is planned to come through geographical expansion to the rest of the MENA region and through specifically targeting several customer segments like mothers and couples with marital disorders. Additionally, they plan on working with corporate companies to provide “Employee counseling services”. In the pipeline is also a chatting service that will enable anyone to chat with therapists through Whatsapp texting and voice notes – through an affordable monthly subscription.

“The idea of Shezlong came after I had a serious accident back in 2013. I suffered from severe depression and it was difficult for me to find a trustworthy and reliable psychiatrist. I was also handicapped because of the injuries, so I thought, why wouldn’t we have a mental health platform serving people wherever they are? That helps me find who the right doctor is and then helps me connect with them?” Said Ahmed Abu Elhaz, Shezlong’s CEO. “In 2014, we applied with our business plan to the TIEC government incubation program. We were provided with an office and a fund of 160K EGP to spend over a period of 1 year. By 2015, we had launched our platform, and worked on growing our medical team. Today and with the help of A15, Endure and Karim, we will be looking to expand our business further and work on reaching the people we know need mental health support” Added Abu Elhaz.

Lina Gilani
Holds B.A English Literature and Translation from Al – Zaytoonah University in Amman – Jordan. Writer, translator, animal rights activist.