Students harness AI for organ donor awareness

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 13 Jul 2023
Save7 member Matipa Ledwaba and Save7 founder Jonty Wright.
Save7 member Matipa Ledwaba and Save7 founder Jonty Wright.

A group of Stellenbosch University (SU) medical students are using artificial intelligence (AI) to raise awareness of organ donation.

The initiative is driven by Save7, a non-profit organisation (NPO) founded by students.

Third-year medical student Jonty Wright founded Save7 after meeting patients in hospital who were desperately awaiting organs.

The NPO says since its inception, it has developed backend data systems that simplify complex administrative processes involved in transplant referrals and patient support groups.

“As you dive deeper into the organ donation ecosystem in South Africa, you discover there are many gaps for potential donors to fall through, such as inefficient referral systems, lack of centralised databases and poor patient support, to name a few,” says Wright.

Wright first built the website to raise awareness, and then taught himself to program an AI chatbot to answer questions about organ donation in South Africa.

“Think of it like ChatGPT, except it’s an expert in the field of organ donation.”

Save7 has partneredwith the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africato allow users to register as organ donors in less than a minute.

“You can use Save7 to sign up and leave a personalised message for your next of kin, which, along with your signature, creates a legally recognisable testament of your commitment to donate your organs. The entire process takes less than a minute and is absolutely free.”

The Save7 team also has a WhatsApp API that allows users to encourage their friends and family to register as donors.

“By signing up, you can save seven lives, but by encouraging your network to do the same thing, you can save exponentially more.”

The team says its goal is to create a system that can easily be replicated and implemented by other students, doctors and transplant coordinators worldwide.

“We're striving for a plug-and-play solution,” says Sachen Naidu, treasurer of Save7. “We were inspired by the principle of open source software – it lays out the basic framework for others to copy-and-paste to their own unique environments.”

With August being international organ donor month, Save7 is running a campaign that aims to reach over one million South Africans by the end of August.

The team is also working with VulaMobile to create an easy-to-use referral portal for doctors to refer potential donors to transplant units.

“The point is to make this referral as easy as possible for healthcare professionals. It’s truly a tragedy when willing donors with healthy organs are missed because the current referral process is inconvenient for doctors,” comments Wright.

The Save7 team also established the first renal patient support group at Tygerberg Hospital, which now has 50 members.

“It’s easy to get caught up in solving the big problems and forget about the people in front of us. Our goal with the support groups is not only to provide a much-needed community for our patients, but to create a framework that other public hospitals can use to follow in our footsteps,” says Naazim Nagdee, vice-president of Save7.

Professor Elmin Steyn, transplant surgeon and head of surgery at SU and Tygerberg Hospital, praises her students’ initiative. “It is heart-warming to see compassionate young medical students deploy AI technology and social media to help the less fortunate.”