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AwezaMed bridges COVID-19 language divide

Written by Allison Cooper

An innovative language app is helping ensure that South Africans receive Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) information in a language they are familiar with, potentially saving lives.

The local mobile app, AwezaMed, is aimed at breaking down language barriers to improve safety protocols, communication and other COVID-19-related information.

According to the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, language remains a serious challenge in conveying this life-saving information during the deadly pandemic, especially in a country like South Africa with 11 official languages.

Multilingualism is vital to ensure healthcare professionals and patients understand each other and the voice-enabled AwezaMed app will help to make this possible.

“In the context of healthcare, it is common that the healthcare provider and patient often do not share a common language.

“This results in serious challenges, such as a poorer patient experience, incorrect diagnoses, increased stress levels for the patient and misunderstandings about post-consultation self-care instructions,” says Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande.

AwezaMed was developed by the department’s entity, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

It features localised technology, such as speech recognition, text-to-speech and machine translation.

“The app enables healthcare providers to access a phrase in English, translate it into any South African official language and play the phrase in the selected language,” says the Minister.

The content of the app was developed in collaboration with health experts.

The app, which currently works on any Android smartphone, also has a database of over 1 800 questions, reassurances, explanations, patient responses and key vocabulary curated by a team of medical professionals.

In addition, automatic speech recognition allows for the recognition and transcription of speech in any of the 11 official languages, while machine translation takes input text in the source language and translates it into the target language.

The Minister believes the app holds potential benefits for the public health sector beyond COVID-19, as it will go a long way towards improving trust between healthcare providers and patients, allowing for more diagnoses that are accurate and save lives.

AwezaMed can be accessed free on the Google Play Store at http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=za.co.aweza.covid19.  – SAnews.gov.za