Vula is a South African mobile app for making medical referrals. It provides healthcare professionals with information and basic diagnostic tools and allows them to connect with medical specialists for advice and to refer patients for specialised care.

Having piloted the app in Ophthalmology, Vula is now available in other areas of medicine such as Orthopaedics, Dermatology, Cardiology, ENT, HIV, Family Medicine and Burns.

Developed by Dr William Mapham in 2011 in response to a problem he was facing at work in rural Swaziland, he told Disrupt Africa that the startup was still running on the prize money from the African Entrepreneur Awards, with obtaining funding difficult as the product is not yet making money.

“Our primary focus is helping patients who don’t have medical aid by empowering health workers. Our drive to have an impact in this sector isn’t made easy because there is cash in the system. We will never charge patients, health workers or specialists. We hope to get external funding to keep making a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

He also explained that there is great potential for Vula Mobile in both the public and private sectors: “Vula saves an average of 25 per cent of referrals to tertiary hospitals, resulting in cost and time savings. There is also potential for savings in the private sector. A contract there would then cross-subsidise our work in the public sector. We are in negotiations with a private sector company where this may work.”

How Vula Mobile app works in Ophthalmology:

Vula Mobile, which is a recipient of the  MTN Business App of the Year Awards and the African Entrepreneurship Award, allows health workers to capture basic patient information, take photographs, do a basic eye test and capture a brief medical history before sending it directly to a specialist.

They can then ask for advice over a dedicated messaging platform, and decide on the best course of care for the patient.