Uganda: App to bridge communication gap between health workers, patients

Aaron Ainomugisha,

To bridge the communication gap between health workers and patients, a Ugandan scientist, Sir Khoi Khoi has developed a language translation application named Khoinology at Mbarara University of Science and Technology-MUST in Mbarara City western Uganda.

Khoi Koi, a biomedical engineer was inspired to create the application after visiting health facilities around the Ankole sub-region with over 10 districts and other African countries where he noticed a communication gap between patients and doctors.

“I came up with this innovation called the Khoinology app, and I have embedded both local and international languages,” he said. 

How it operates?  

The Khoinology app is designed to allow patients and doctors to communicate effectively, even when they speak different languages.

The application is installed on a smartphone with Bluetooth software and requires magic headphones for listening. The Bluetooth is used to connect the phone and the headphones. “Both the patient and the doctor put on the headphones, speak their respective languages, and the application translates their words for each other,” he explained.

It aims to improve communication between patients and doctors to ensure accurate diagnoses and treatment. Koi Koi explained that hiring an interpreter can cost between Shillings 100,000 and 200,000, but with his innovation, one needs only Ugx180,000 to overcome the language barrier challenge.

“Privacy is one of the pillars in the health sector, and language barriers pose a threat to privacy. Therefore, the Khoinology app is intended to bridge the language gap in healthcare provision,” he said.

The Khoinology app’s development began in April 2022 and was completed by May 2023 with its first trial done at a health centre in the Nakivale refugee settlement in February this year, (2024?) achieving a 96% success rate. 

Seventeen trials have been conducted, including with Indian and Chinese engineers working on road works in Mbarara town.

What does it solve?

 Khoi says this application will address the language barrier challenge in healthcare service provision, and it has an accuracy of approximately 95% in decoding five languages, including Luganda, Runyankole, English, Swahili, and Chinese.

He is working on adding 45 other languages from different regions of the country, such as Northern and Eastern. 

Dr Ronald Kasyaba, the Director of Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau, said that language barriers can result in preventable medical errors, low treatment adherence, low health-seeking behaviour, additional treatment costs, increased length of hospital stays, less confidence, and dissatisfaction with healthcare.

However, in facilities under the bureau, any doctor or nurse who speaks another language is tasked with deploying a translator from within the facility at no cost. The administrators are also required to include it in their reports in case of a language barrier challenge.

Xihua Mi, a Chinese national working with CHICO in Mbarara City, commended the innovation.

He has had to hire translators at between Shillings 50,000 and 100,000 per week, but with the Khoinology app, he has not spent any money for the last two weeks. According to Dr. Kasyaba, there is no substantiated report that the language barrier affects the provision of health services. However, approximately 56% of people who visit health facilities face this challenge.


 Khoi says health innovation and other innovations should be supported by the government and hopes that the government can finance the project to make the app available for free, like any other application. 

“I am selling the app for now because I need money to also pay the host of the application, however, it is cheap, and it is the first innovation of its kind in Africa. So I want to ask the government if they can give me a hand of at least Ugx500 million or a billion if it is okay. We can extend or expand this production,” he added.

What are the locals saying?

“This is a very good innovation. As women, we will benefit a lot whenever we visit health centres. He should be supported,” a female patient said.

More Innovation:

Koi Koi is also exploring the development of “artificial clouds” to induce rain in areas affected by drought, aiming to assist struggling farmers with crop irrigation in specific regions.

The science of cloud condensation or ice nuclei can be a valuable tool in addressing the challenges faced by farmers due to climate change. His Cloud Condensation project has led to the invention of Cloud Ice nuclei, an initiative focused on climate change mitigation.

He emphasizes the significance of the project for Africa and the world, urging the Ugandan government and organizations to support this cause. Unlike some countries using silver iodide in cloud seeding, Khoi Khoi and his team are opting for a more environmentally friendly method using sea salt and dust.

Health Innovation in Uganda? 

Ugandan Health Minister, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng says technology is an essential solution in the pursuit of digital health.

“Digital health tools emerge as a beacon of hope, offering a range of innovative approaches to streamline care, expand access, and optimize resource utilisation. We are witnessing a digital revolution that holds immense promise for improving patients’ outcomes,” she explained.

Uganda health Minister- Dr. Ruth Aceng( phot credit: Google)

The National Health Information Exchange Registries Services Components was launched in November 2023, as a testament to the Ministry of Health’s commitment to leveraging digital health for the betterment of communities.

*Aaron Ainomugisha,  is a journalist with Rise News, Uganda Network

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