Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, has welcomed the development of an innovative language app that has the potential to save lives.
The local mobile application, AwezaMed, is aimed at breaking down language barriers to improve safety protocols communication and other COVID-19 related information.
According to the department, 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.
It is for this reason that the department believes that multilingualism is vital to ensure healthcare professionals and patients understand each other and that the voice-enabled AwezaMed app will help to make this possible.
"In the context of healthcare, where it is common that the healthcare provider and patient often do not share a common language, this result 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," said Nzimande.
AwezaMed was developed by the department’s entity, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The app 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," said Nzimande, adding that the content of the application 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 has 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 text-to-speech feature takes the translated text and synthesises it in the target language.”
According to the department, the language technology driving the app was developed using language resources hosted and distributed by the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR).
The department said it launched SADiLaR as part of the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap, to support the creation, management and distribution of digital language resources and relevant software.
The first of its kind in Africa, the research infrastructure platform responds to the constitutional imperative to recognise all South African languages as key resources.
The Minister believes that the application 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 works on any Android smartphone and 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