When two medical school classmates from the University of Benin, Dr. Charles Immanuel Akhimien and Dr. Emmanuel Owobu co-founded MOBicure in 2015, they had a clear idea of what they wanted their Digital Health company to be and the peculiar problems they intended to solve with it. MOBicure was to be a Nigerian startup that provides relevant mobile technology solutions to pressing health issues in developing countries, starting with Nigeria.
Their first product would be Omomi, a maternal and child health application designed to reduce childbirth mortality. After three years with nearly 40,000 users on the platform and countless lives impacted, Charles and Emmanuel felt something was still missing.
According to the WHO, about 20% of global maternal mortality happens in Nigeria. Since a fifth of these pregnancies is unintended, young girls bear the brunt of the problem. While Omomi was actively solving the problem of maternal deaths in Nigeria, the problem of how unintended pregnancies come about in the first place remained, and more than that, it festered. The two founders believed the two problems were interconnected. To effectively solve the former, they had to also tackle the latter.
“Young people in Nigeria didn’t have anywhere they could talk about sex.” Dr. Akhimien says. “In many ways, sex is still a taboo topic. It’s not a topic you talk about at the dinner table. And the consequence of this is that we have a low contraceptive uptake in Nigeria, a high rate of unintended pregnancies, and ultimately, unsafe abortions and death.”
Dr. Akhmien tells me that contrary to what Nigerian conservatives will have you believe, the fact was, and still is, that young people are having sex, lots of it. But mostly unsafely. It was a harmful blend of uninformed experimentation and scintillating vibes. Pick twenty young Nigerians at random and you would be surprised at how little they know or care about safe sex.
This is evident in the spike in the number of people living with HIV in Nigeria, 40% of which are young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
According to Dr. Akhimien, they noticed that while their product, Omomi, was effectively serving pregnant women and mothers, young people were being left behind. Something had to be done and soon.
Be Free, Be You!
In July 2018, MOBicure rolled out a new app for young people called myPaddi.
As every Nigerian knows, myPaddi is a play on the popular slang “paddi” from the Pidgin English lexicon which essentially means “best friend.” In the months and years that would follow its release, this is exactly what the myPaddi app would become to tens of thousands of young adults in Nigerian and across Africa. As of June 2021, the app had 90,939 active users from 16 African countries.
The mission of the myPaddi app was simple: to be a safe safe space for young people to anonymously and freely talk about sex. Although, this would later grow to include an important feature that gives users unhindered access to accurate and bias-free sexual resources.