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Genius app re-deployed due to Covid 19 cases


AwezaMed, the first translation app fluent in South Africa’s 11 official languages, has
concluded its three year pilot with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
This brings to completion many years of research and development, culminating in multiple
local and international awards such as the Nominet Trust Winner, Netexplo Innovation
Award, Winning “Best Healthcare Focused Language Barrier Solution 2020” by MEA
Business Awards, an official project of World Design Capital and listed as one of the most
innovative companies in Africa by Fast Company.

Aweza was first launched in 2014 by Glenn Stein, a local tech-entrepreneur who was
frustrated by the inability to communicate easily with locals while backpacking through rural
parts of the Eastern Cape. Shortly thereafter, in partnership with the Michael and Susan Dell
Foundation, Glenn designed AwezaEd with the aim of improving the experience of English
second-language learners. News of Aweza travelled fast and Glenn secured multiple media
appearances for Aweza’s accessibility and innovative use of technology. Glenn then
collaborated with the CSIR to launch a medical text-to-speech pilot of the app called
AwezaMed.

The app was recently redesigned and deployed in order to convert Covid-related
speech-to-speech themes and content, in order to meet the rising need brought on by the
pandemic.

AwezaMed is a voice-enabled lingual communication app which helps health-care
practitioners and patients understand each other better. The app allows doctors and medical
staff to easily communicate with patients in their own language, thus reducing the language
barrier leading to misunderstandings and misdiagnoses.
“AwezaMed exists to improve communication in South Africa, thereby bringing us closer
together,” says Glenn Stein. “Language is a tool to build our nation.”

Using phrases collected through four months of consultation with healthcare professionals
and text-to-speech synthesis, AwezaMed has now been redeployed to support Covid-19
related content in all of the official SA languages. It hosts a database of more than 1,800
questions, reasurances, explanations, patient responses and key vocabulary curated
through a vigorous refinement process with the oversight of a team of medical professionals.
It offers recognition and transcription of speech in any of the 11 languages into text and
takes the input text in the source language and translates it into the target language.
“I found the app to be useful when language becomes a barrier between me and my
patients,” says one HCP. “I feel that being able to speak to a patient in their home language
helps me provide better care for my patients, which means we both get a better result.”

In concluding the three year Pilot, AwezaMed initially focused on Maternal Health and was
only available in three language pairs (English-Afrikaans, English-isiZulu and
English-isiXhosa). It was then successfully piloted at five public hospitals and community
health centres across South Africa over the past two years. Just under 100 Health Care
Practitioners (HCP’s) including doctors and nurses signed up for the pilot and feedback was
received while using the app in real-world scenarios.

“Being able to greet a patient in their own language builds rapport with them,” says another HCP
in South Africa. “The difference between being able to do nothing for a patient and being able to
provide a service, albeit small, meant that the app already had an impact in the lives of those we
helped.”

Since deployment, AwezaMed has launched the second and third iteration which aimed to
address the limitation of version one by implementing a form of grammar-based machine
translation. Not to be confused with Google’s statistical analysis-based translation,
grammar-based machine translation ensures a far more dependable and accurate method of
translation.

“With the right institutional support to further the research and development of this
technology, there is great potential to bring South Africans together in ways previously
thought impossible,” says Glenn.

As a contributing author to a scientific journal, Glenn’s app was recently featured on IEEE
Xplore, receiving valuable interest and input from various medical personnel to further
develop AwezaMed’s implementation in the field.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in
his language, that goes to his heart.” – Nelson Mandela

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