CSIR revamps AwezaMed app for COVID-19 patients

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South African start-up Aweza, in partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has revamped the AwezaMed app to accommodate patients who are testing and screening for COVID-19.

Originally developed in 2014 with content pertaining to maternal healthcare and obstetrics, the mobile application aims to bridge communication barriers between healthcare providers and patients.

Now called the AwezaMed COVID-19 app, it features localised speech technology, such as speech recognition, machine translation and text-to-speech developed by the CSIR and works on any Android smartphone.

It allows doctors and medical staff to easily communicate with patients in their own language by enabling healthcare providers to access a phrase in English, translate it into any South African official language, and play the phrase in the selected language.

This helps to reduce the language barrier that causes misunderstandings and misdiagnoses.

The app has recently been augmented to suit the information requirements of patients and COVID-19-related medical phrases and questions, made available for download from the Android Play Store at no cost to users.

“By bridging the communication barrier, the trust relationship between the healthcare provider and patient can be improved,” says Dr Karen Calteaux, CSIR digital audio-visual technologies research group leader.

“In addition, the patient’s experience and the healthcare provider-patient confidentiality can be improved, and lives can possibly be saved.”

The CSIR, an entity of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, was constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1945 as a science council, which undertakes directed and multidisciplinary research and technological innovation, as well as industrial and scientific development to improve the quality of life of all South Africans.

The content of the AwezaMed COVID-19 application was developed in collaboration with health experts and is aimed at supporting healthcare workers and patients at healthcare facilities across SA, especially during COVID-19-related screening and triage.

“AwezaMed emanated from a project funded by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture, that strives to bridge language barriers between healthcare practitioners and patients in clinics. A decision was taken to develop a version to address language barriers experienced by medical professionals working with COVID-19 patients,” says Calteaux.

In addition to AwezaMed COVID-19, Aweza is working on growing its sister project, edtech app AwezaEd, which focuses on addressing language barriers in the education system.

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