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Stellenbosch medical students using AI to raise organ donation awareness

Save7 member Matipa Ledwaba and founder Jonty Wright

Save7 member Matipa Ledwaba and founder Jonty Wright

12th July 2023

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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A group of Stellenbosch University medical students is harnessing the power of algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) to raise much-needed awareness of organ donation in South Africa.

The student nonprofit organisation Save7 initiative aims to share the message that every South African has the potential to save seven lives by donating their kidneys, heart and lungs after they die.

“Awareness about organ donation is especially low among the younger generation. We needed to make this difficult topic easier for the public to engage with, so we focused our narrative more on multiplying life in the present, than on thinking about death in the future,” said third-year medical student and Save7 founder Jonty Wright.

He first built a website to raise awareness, and then taught himself to programme an AI chatbot to answer questions about organ donation in South Africa. His graphic designer colleagues helped bring the Save7 brand to life with bold designs and a conversational style that appeals to a young, digital-savvy audience.

Save7 has also partnered with the Organ Donor Foundation of South Africa to allow users to register as organ donors in less than a minute.

“You can use Save7.org to sign up and leave a personalised message for your next of kin, which, along with your signature, creates a legally recognisable testament of your commitment to donate your organs. The entire process takes less than a minute and is absolutely free. This is a first in South Africa,” highlighted Wright.

Further, since its inception, Save7 has developed backend data systems that simplify the complex administrative processes involved in transplant referrals, and patient support groups.

“In the organ donation ecosystem in South Africa, there are many gaps for potential donors to fall through, such as inefficient referral systems, lack of centralised databases and poor patient support, to name a few.”

Wright founded Save7 after meeting patients in hospital who were desperately awaiting organs.

“There was nothing more doctors could do for them, and they were literally waiting to die. Something felt deeply wrong with that, and I knew we had to do something,” he said.

Save7 has teamed up with VulaMobile to create an easy-to-use referral portal for doctors to refer potential donors to transplant units.

“The point is to make this referral as easy as possible for healthcare professionals. It’s truly a tragedy when willing donors with healthy organs are missed because the current referral process is inconvenient for doctors,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Save7 team also established the first renal patient support group at Tygerberg Hospital, which now boasts 50 members.

“It’s easy to get caught up in solving the big problems and forget about the people in front of us. Our goal with the support groups is not only to provide a much-needed community for our patients, but to create a framework that other public hospitals can use to follow in our footsteps,” said Save7 VP Naazim Nagdee.

The team's goal is to create a system that can easily be replicated and implemented by other students, doctors and transplant coordinators worldwide.

“We're striving for a plug-and-play solution. This involves meticulously documenting their progress, analysing what strategies proved effective and what fell short. They aim to provide structural and organisational templates that could aid future organ donation initiatives across the continent,” said Save7 treasurer Sachen Naidu.

“We were inspired by the principle of open-source software, as it lays out the basic framework for others to copy and paste to their own unique environments,” he explained.

The Save7 team believes that by sharing their campaign experiences in a developing country, they can simplify the process for others in similar situations.

“We like to think of it as developing a care package that can be deployed anywhere,” Naidu said.

The Save7 team has also made it easy for users to encourage their friends and family to register as donors and have the same conversations with their family using a WhatsApp application programming interface.

“By signing up, you can save seven lives, and by encouraging your network to do the same thing, you can save exponentially more,” he said.

The team is running a campaign that aims to reach over one-million South Africans by the end of August, which is internationally recognised as Organ Donor Month.

Save7 is endorsed by the South African Transplantation Society, Mediclinic, the Organ Donor Foundation, as well as Stellenbosch University.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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