Gabriella Afrika, who founded Bluedragonfly in 2016, says her aim was to break the silence on mental health while making the services accessible to more Rwandans.
“When my father was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996, I started an orphan life,” Kaneza (not real name) recalls what he calls “a trigger event” of a life that attracted a tide of stigma.
He was 14 when his father – the breadwinner for the family – was sentenced to life.
The eldest boy among six siblings, Kaneza assumed parental and family responsibilities at an early age.
Eventually, a combination of pressure and adolescence drove him into alcoholism, which triggered many episodes of mental health challenges.
Kaneza, now 38, is undergoing a virtual counselling process to recover from years of trauma and depression.
He remembers years which followed his first breakdown and admission in a psychiatric hospital in 2005. He relapsed at least every three years.
Since 2019, Kaneza has had regular video calls with his counsellor based in Serbia.
Kaneza and the counsellor used to set up a time to talk via WhatsApp.
“Because it’s a video call, he could look at my face and ask me why I look sad, or angry, and I could tell him what’s wrong. It was real.”
Today, he is transformed from a “very aggressive, alcoholic and pessimistic” human being to an aspiring filmmaker, a locally celebrated singer and vlogger, thanks to Blue Dragonfly tele-health centre.
Bluedragonfly centre is a web-based mental health platform, which allows virtual access to health professionals, coaches and counsellors globally, and gathers therapeutic communities.
Currently, people can interact with professionals from Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital and Icyizere Psychotherapeutic Centre as well as private counsellors on the platform.
To access available services, a patient must sign up.
On their profile they can see a list of available health professionals and connect with them via WhatsApp, which is integrated into the platform.
The developer says that WhatsApp proved to be easier to use and more popular than other video call apps.
Gabriella Afrika, who founded Bluedragonfly in 2016, says her aim was to break the silence on mental health while making the services accessible to more Rwandans.
“There are many ways one can kill a nation or a society: one, with arms and artillery and two, with silent death and disintegrations of family through divorce and the inability to express oneself, communicate and take care of internal turmoil,” she says.
Rwanda has raised from ashes, she says, but future generations are “in big trouble” if persistent mental health issues are not tackled.
“It is our duty to make mental health a priority and this is why the Bluedragonfly Tele-health centre was created.”
The online health centre also wants to reduce the pressure on the already existing brick-and-mortar centres by not having to go see the doctor physically.
The patient will be able to get consultation, counselling and, if necessary, medications through the app.
The platform, which is open worldwide, hosts therapeutic communities of more than 1,000 people in various groups such as alcoholics, divorcees and depression.
To reach the offline population, Bluedragonfly uses a short code number (5757) for hotline calls. Callers are connected to counsellors and carry their sessions over the phone.
The platform is helping people who would rather miss out on services due to stigma that has been directed to mental health, according to Marie Jeanne Afrika, a family councellor who receives callers on the hotline.
“There are people who feel embarrassed to go to a counsellor mainly due to our culture. These people are calling now because nobody is seeing them,” she says. “And they talk about anything they need without feeling guilty.”
The hotline is always open, allowing people to access counsellors at any time and at the same time helping those who would lack transportation to go to physical centres.
In addition to mental health care services, people can access “The Mind”, an open podcast that allows the public to open up discussions about mental issues, everyday life or marital problems such as divorce, drug and alcohol abuse and Christianity.
Bluedragonfly is currently working on a facelift expected to launch by the end of October.
The updated app will allow home delivery of pharmaceutical drugs using biometric identifications for patients.
Source: The New Times


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