22.02.2017

One South African Doctor's App Is Making A Huge Difference In Combating Blindness

Unfortunately, more and more people are suffering from blindness in the modern world. Most recent estimates say that there are about 39 million people who are completely blind around the globe. The truly shocking fact about these blind patients is that 80 percent of them could have been either prevented or cured had they been able to visit a medical professional.

One nation that has been hit hard by this blindness epidemic is South Africa. There are now 640,000 people in the African nation who are either completely blind or visually impaired. Thankfully, one ophthalmologist has stepped up to the plate and is trying to combat the recent blindness epidemic with technology.

For many years now, Dr. William Mapham has volunteered in Swaziland, a more rural area in southern Africa. Many of the patients in this part of Africa have either been misdiagnosed or simply couldn't receive treatment for their eye conditions in the past. Dr. Mapham would have to drive eight hours just to get to Swaziland, then, after he diagnosed all of his patients, Dr. Mapham would have to take them on an eight-hour trip to give them quality medical care at Stellenbosch University or in Cape Town.

As you could imagine, these eight-hour drives put a great deal of stress on Dr. Mapham. Dr. Mapham wondered if there was a more efficient way to give quality care to people most vulnerable to eye care diseases. Then, in a flash, he came up with the idea for a mobile app.

Mapham's app is called VULA, a SiSwati word meaning "open." In addition to helping connect rural patients with highly skilled medical workers, the VULA app can diagnose any users' eyes right on the spot. VULA uses graphics on the user's phone to test the patient's vision, and it can use the camera to examine the eyes up close.

Mapham won the prestigious SAB Foundation Social Innovation Award in 2013 for his app technology, and he used the prize money to make his app more mainstream. In 2014, Dr. Mapham officially launched the app on both iOS and Android devices, and VULA currently has a 4.5 star rating on the Google Play Store.

All of the information collected on the app can be instantly shared with qualified health care workers, which makes the referral process easier for rural patients. Whenever a VULA user has eye trouble, they can reach out to local healthcare workers using this app. The healthcare worker can then easily look into the patient's history, test the patient's eyes, and even use algorithms to discover the nature of the patient's problem. If the problem is too complex for the healthcare worker, they can also contact a registered physician using the app's on-call feature.

The VULA app has proven so successful for eye care specialists, many other specialists are joining VULA's platform to enhance their health care service. Just a few other specialists getting involved with the VULA app team include burn experts, cardiologists, orthopedics, and HIV/AIDS experts.

Healthcare workers across South Africa say VULA has greatly helped patients connect with specialists. Hundreds of nurses, doctors, and local health care workers have been using VULA ever since it was first released in 2014, and all of them have only noticed positive results in their patients' lives.

Dr. Mapham currently works as an ophthalmology registrar for Stellenbosch University. He is an expert in both rural health care and mobile phone applications, having worked extensively with the Rural Doctors Association of South Africa and in various other positions in Washington and New York. He is a graduate of both the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University.


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