RMB Solutionist Thinking is a podcast series hosted by Bruce Whitfield which focusses on great South African minds thinking differently and going against the norm. In this episode in the second series, Whitfield interviews the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Vula Mobile, William Mapham.
Working as an ophthalmologist in remote rural areas in the Eastern Cape, South Africa and Swaziland, Dr William Mapham had first-hand experience of what it was like to work as a healthcare worker without proper support and access to specialist care.
To combat the struggles of healthcare workers, Dr. William Mapham sought to bring about systemic change by bridging the gap between digital technology and healthcare.
I would like to see that everyone is able to get access to a specialist.— William Mapham, founder and Chief Executive — Vula Mobile
Although it wasn't conceptualised right then — it was a fellowship at Columbia University in the United States of America that led the tech entrepreneur to see the potential for mobile app technology to attempt to solve Africa's historical access problems in the healthcare sector.
Fast forward to 2014, the idea inspired the innovative, Vula Mobile — a diagnostics and referral app that links primary healthcare workers in remote areas with on-call medical and surgical specialists in South African hospitals in under 15 minutes.
If you look at South Africa, we're actually blessed with health resources. In every single town, there's a private hospital next to a public hospital in many cases, which means that there's so many resources at most places that we just not making the most of it.— William Mapham, founder and Chief Executive — Vula Mobile
The real-time, chat-based system streamlines the process of diagnosis by enabling healthcare professionals to capture and send pictures of the patient's condition to a specialist, who then delivers a diagnosis, prescribes treatments or schedules an appointment for surgery.
This allows specialists to gain access to under-serviced areas, in a quicker and more efficient manner.
I think that, with systems like Vula, we can help people really make the most of the local resources and make a difference.— William Mapham, founder and Chief Executive — Vula Mobile
To date, the multi-award winning mhealth app has served over 123,000 patients. In addition there are 7 200 registered health workers of which 1 200 are specialists and it has launched its 20th specialty.
While the Cape Town-based startup has fostered a relationship with the Department of Health and has secured up R1 million in funding from HAVAÍC, it is also working on a new partnership-based commercial revenue model that seeks to raise $500,000 from companies in the private sector to assist 100,000 patients during the course of the year..
I think the real future for South African health care, if you look at in terms of the national health insurance and initiatives like that, if we can make the public health system so good that people actually start using it or using it more, there’ll be more room for collaboration with the private sector.— William Mapham, founder and Chief Executive — Vula Mobile
Dr William Mapham is currently focused on growing Vula Mobile's reach in Swaziland, and plans to extend it into Zambia.