Cape Town based technology start-up Vula Mobile has been on the digital frontline in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. A recipient of CDI’s Design Innovation Seed Fund (DISF) grant funding, Vula’s interventions have been numerous, including a National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) helpline for healthcare workers; a public facing hotline with 400 Volunteers; and creating a country map of COVID testing sites and services, which is used by national and provincial administrators.

Vula is the brainchild of Dr William Mapham, who conceived the idea to improve healthcare by linking registered health workers with specialists via specialised apps and an online dashboard. Since 2013, Vula has grown its platform and expanded, and in 2018 was awarded a DISF grant by the CDI.

The DISF funds designers, inventors, entrepreneurs and product developers with pre-revenue innovative technologies and tech-enabled ideas and products. These businesses are not able to raise funds easily from traditional banks or funding agencies because of the risks involved. The seed funding assists recipients to understand their opportunities by designing and building prototypes; and validating their assumptions around the technical and market-related challenges. The DISF is managed by CDI’s subsidiary CDI Capital, with investment funds provided by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), and additional support from the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism.

The DISF grant funding has enabled Vula to reach important development milestones and has helped them to unlock further investment. By the end of last year, Vula had grown rapidly, with 9 100 registered health workers and 180 000 patients being helped. They also launched their first national service, the National Vaccine Helpline; and they were appointed as the national referral system by the National Department of Health.

With the COVID-19 pandemic arriving, Vula has been incredibly busy scaling up work to support the South African healthcare sector. Their activities over the past few months include:

  • Free COVID testing for patients without medical aid. Read here for more.
  • COVID referrals to the field hospital at the CTICC and the COVID wards at Groote Schuur
  • NICD helpline for health workers on Vula. Read more here
  • Mental health helpline for health workers on Vula
  • Public facing hotline with 400 Volunteers
  • Raising funds for PPE for health workers with Gift of the Givers, with nearly R2m raised to date. See the campaign here online.
  • Co-produced six Carte Blanche YouTube episodes, including on topics such as “What can I do?”, “Which mask is for me?”
  • Created the country’s map of COVID testing sites and services, which is used by national and provincial administrators.

Vula Mobile was also recently awarded Best Health Solution at the MTN App of the Year Awards 2020.

“It has been amazing to see the growth Vula Mobile has managed to achieve during the past two years and 99.9% of that can be attributed to their own volition,” says Ryan Rode from CDI Capital.

“It has been a real pleasure to have been a small part of their history and we wish them all the best going forward.”

Dr Mapham says that at Vula Mobile they aim to serve the health workers at the frontline who work with dedication and resolve to provide the best healthcare for their patients.

“These frontliners inspire us every day to keep improving health systems,” he says.

Image above: A poster with details of the COVID-19 Doctors on Call Helpline. 

Image above: Free COVID testing for patients without medical aid