Biomedical Engineer innovates app to bridge language barrier in health services

Sir Khoi Koi testing his app with a cliet at his office in Mbarara City

Sir Khoi Koi testing his app with a cliet at his office in Mbarara City


A Biomedical Engineer in Mbarara City, Sir Khoi Koi, has developed an innovative application to address the language barrier challenge in healthcare service provision. The application, called Khoinology, has an accuracy of approximately 95% to decode five languages, including Luganda, Runyankole, English, Swahili, and Chinese.

Khoi Koi was inspired to create the application after visiting health facilities around the Ankole region and other African countries and noticing a language gap between patients and doctors. “So I came up with this innovation called Khoinology app that I have embedded both local and international languages,” he said. Khoi Koi’s 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 said.

Khoi Koi aims to improve communication between patients and doctors to ensure accurate diagnoses and treatment. He explained that hiring an interpreter can cost between Shillings 100,000 and 200,000, but with his innovation, one needs only Shillings 180,000 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 last year, and its first trial was done at a health center in the Nakivale refugee settlement in February this year, achieving a 96% success rate. Khoi Koi has conducted 17 trials, including with Indian and Chinese engineers working on road works in Mbarara town.

He is currently working on adding 45 other languages from different regions of the country, such as Northern and Eastern. Khoi Koi 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 really want to ask the government if they can give me a hand of at least Shillings 500 million or a billion if it is okay. We can extend or expand this production,” he told URN in an interview.

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 behavior, 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, expressed appreciation for 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.


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