Medical students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) are developing an app and website to improve the experience of deaf patients using healthcare facilities.

Fourth-year medical students Banele Mhlongo and Vuma Mthembu are developing the innovative and cost-effective solution to make healthcare facilities more accessible for people with hearing disabilities.

The solution will help the deaf to explain and communicate with healthcare professionals about symptoms, treatment and medication for common medical conditions. These include asthma; meningitis; hypertension; HIV/AIDS; TB and diabetes.

According to the duo, the solution uses video content and other visual material to show sign language interpreters and health professionals explaining everything patients need to know about asthma, for example.

The short videos explains what asthma is, how it’s treated, the differences between controllers and relievers, some asthma triggers, the importance of avoiding non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and side effects and how to deal with them.

The two students believe that communicating with the deaf is a vital aspect to creating stronger health systems.

“The deaf community has no alternative language other than Sign. Lip-reading is insufficient. And when examining, about 70% of a diagnosis comes from the patient’s history. To get a good history, you need to ask relevant questions that the patient can understand and respond to,” said Mhlongo.

“We should be caring better for this population, engaging with them and providing better, more equitable, holistic, acceptable and appropriate access to healthcare and information,” added Mhlongo.

Mhlongo and Mthembu are also using Instagram to engage with a younger deaf audience by posting pictures and meme-styled short, humorous captioned images, explaining the most common health conditions.

The students say there are eager to expand their project and are looking for supporters to fully develop this important innovation, ensuring healthcare access for all in South Africa.

“Our aim is to pioneer sign-language teaching for all programmes in the medical school, and to get other institutions to adopt it,” concluded Mhlongo.

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