SA startup Aweza launches medical translation app

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South African startup Aweza has partnered the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) elite Human Language Technology Research team to launch a medical text-to-speech pilot of its app, named AwezaMed.

The original Aweza app, which was developed in 2014 to help South Africans overcome language barriers, has been redeveloped and rewritten to cater specifically to the medical industry.

It allows doctors and medical staff to easily communicate with patients in their own language, thus reducing the language barrier that causes misunderstandings and misdiagnoses. Each of the 1,800 medical phrases and questions are translated into three national languages, and synthesised into audio using the CSIR’s text-to-speech engine.

“Aweza and I have come a long way since 2014, with a lot of hard lessons learnt and personal sacrifices made along the way,” said Glenn Stein, founder and lead developer of Aweza.

“I rebuilt the app from scratch; it’s easier to use and a lot more stable, as technology has improved dramatically in the past four years. I’ve dreamt of building a language-translation app in the medical space since I first started working on Aweza – an app that reduces misunderstandings in the medical sector caused by language barriers. Aweza has now come into its own.”

Aweza and the CSIR team will be piloting the app in 10 rural and urban public clinics and hospitals across South Africa. The trial will make the app available to doctors and medical staff, either via tablets provided or their own mobile devices.

While the AwezaMed pilot and the development of the CSIR’s speech technology pipeline was funded by the Department of Arts and Culture, the app redevelopment was funded by Aweza itself, which is now running a crowdfunding initiative to raise funds for the next phase of development and to launch an Android app.

The next project, AwezaEd, is also underway. A sister project to AwezaMed, AwezaEd is being built in partnership with FastAcademy’s FastMaths, which was initially funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. The focus is again on addressing language barriers, but this time within the education system.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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