South Africa: R1million research development grant to develop Eye app

South Africa: R1million research development grant to develop Eye app

An ophthalmology registrar at Stellenbosch University has won a R1 million research development grant from SAB to develop the Vula eye health mobile phone app.This app is designed to teach people about eye health, conduct a simple eye test, and can connect people to an eye health professional. “In the future the app may also be used by members of the public to receive opinions from ophthalmologists, or to arrange appointments themselves,” says its developer, Dr William Mapham, of Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. Mapham’s inspiration to develop the app came from working in deep rural areas in Swaziland and the Eastern Cape where people had limited or no access to eye clinics. “While conducting eye clinics in far-flung villages in the old Transkei I came across people who have been blind for many years and that needed cataract surgery to restore their vision. Hopefully the app will be used to help people with eye conditions in rural areas receive the help they need as soon as possible, rather than suffering with preventable blindness for long periods of time,” says Mapham.

Dr William Mapham previously spent time in New York and Washington where he designed mobile phone applications for healthcare. In 2008 he published ‘Mobile phones: Changing health care one SMS at a time’ in the South African Journal of HIV Medicine. The ‘Vula’ app is also the focus of his MMed dissertation and he aims to use it to improve the Ophthalmology Division’s referral system, and it is also supported by the Brien Holden Vision Institute. The name, ‘Vula’, means ‘open’ and was taken from the name of an eye clinic in Swaziland, Vula Amehlo Eye Clinic. “The visionary Dr Jono Pons runs the clinic and it offers services to people from all over Swaziland as well as people from neighbouring Mozambique. Hopefully once the app is available it will be used in the clinic from which its name originates,” says Mapham.

The app will be tested in two sites: testing in an urban setting will take place at Tygerberg Hospital, and rural testing will take place in the Mosvold Hospital in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal. Once testing is complete it will be released on app stores, hopefully by July this year. There is potential in the future to translate the app into different languages and adapt it for use in countries other than South Africa. The R1 million award from SAB will go towards the development, programming, testing, marketing and future developments of the app.

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