Vula App bridges gap between rural patients and urban medical specialists in urban centres

When Dr William Mapham realised that lack of access to specialist healthcare in rural and under-served areas was jeopardising patients' welbeing, he launched his Vula project

At one time, when he was working at the Vula Amehlo Eye Clinic in Swaziland, they drove four hours to visit a rural clinic.

“The rural health worker had a smartphone and we could have saved the journey if she had been able to send us pictures and a vision test,” he says.

This incident inspired him to innovate a medical referral app, Vula Mobile, which makes it easier for general practitioners and primary healthcare workers to get advice from and refer patients to specialists.

“We eventually raised some money and with a donation of R200 of design time from Debre Barrett’s company Flow Interactive, our first demo app was ready in 2013,” he says.

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The demo app, named after the clinic he was working for, won the SAB Innovation Award and the app went live on iOS and Android in July 2014. This app connects health-workers in remote and under-served areas to medical and surgical specialists in urban centres.

Mapham, who is the CEO and founder of the business and app, believes the e-health system strengthens the health system by helping the health-workers provide a better service.

The app has picked up R1 million in funding from HAVAÍC, an investment and advisory firm that specialises in early-stage businesses in Africa.

“Some 10% of the company was put into a special-purposes vehicle – a company that holds shares and has no other function. Individual Vula users and partners were able to buy one or more of 2 000 units in the SPV at R5 000 each. This made it an affordable investment for more people,” he says.

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He says heads of medical and surgical departments contact them when they want use Vula to improve their clinical services. “We also visit hospitals to meet the doctors and HoDs,” he says.

According to him, what makes the app unique is that it caters to any number of specialities and has been designed to scale.

Vula App is a free for all health-workers and administrators to download and use and they have partnered with pharmacies, insurance and financial services sector.