South African startup Vula Mobile, a medical referral app and online platform which hosts a network of health professionals, has partnered with leading medicines firm Novartis to improve eye care services in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Through the Vula Mobile digital platform, primary health care workers can get connected with specialists to enable faster assessment of eye conditions and to optimise the way patients seek care in the rural outskirts.
The strategic partnership with Novartis aims to empower primary care facilities in providing service for adequate eye care, improve the quality of referrals to specialist centres and assist health administrators in making data-driven decisions at a health system level. Primary health workers – nurses, general practitioners and allied health workers – will use Vula to connect asynchronously to specialists on call to discuss their patients.
“According to data generated, we have learned that in an average of 30 per cent of the cases, the eye specialist gives medical advice via the app or on the online portal, enabling the patient to be treated and managed by the primary health worker. This saves the patient travel time, improves health care delivery, upskills the primary health worker and decreases the burden at the local specialist service,” said Dr William Mapham, founder and CEO of Vula Mobile.
Vula Mobile will work with Novartis to provide technical and strategic insights for a sustainable working model. The programme will also be integrated into the Novartis Biome SSA Community as an opportunity to further build the capabilities of healthcare workers.
“There is a clear scarcity of general eye care specialists in Sub-Saharan Africa – a 2019 study further shows that there are 2.7 ophthalmologists per million population, and these interventions will help utilise the limited resources by connecting primary healthcare workers with patients,” said Racey Muchilwa, head of Sub-Saharan Africa at Novartis.
“Another important piece in the management of eye health is the impact vision impairment can have on every aspect of quality of life, including the burden it can produce for patients, for caregivers and on the society. This partnership reinforces our commitment at Novartis, to actively engage patients and healthcare systems, enable broad and fast access to innovation, and improve health outcomes.”
The three-year partnership will commence with a pilot programme in Namibia and Botswana, with focus on eye health. Plans to expand the collaboration in other countries across the continent in other therapeutic areas will ensue, following the successful completion of the first phase of the partnership.