Thousands of people in South Africa are in need of organs to save their lives, and yet a miniscule percentage of the country's population are organ donors. In fact, South Africa has one of the smallest organ donor populations in the world.
Innovative first-year MBChB student, Jonty Wright, wants to turn this situation around, and hopes that a “bot" and other material he has developed to help recruit students as organ donors will do just that.
Wright, who describes himself as a “passionate medical entrepreneur", has created a campaign called Save7 aimed at enlisting younger people to sign up as organ donors and to provide information about organ donation in a “fun and interactive way".
“Everybody has the potential to save seven lives – and it takes about seven seconds to sign up to be an organ donor," Wright said in an interview. “Yet, for some reason people do not do the introspection needed to take the step of becoming an organ donor. They don't ask themselves, 'I wonder what will happen when I die…' This is a problem in South Africa, but I believe it is easy to solve."
To begin with, Wright aims to open up the conversation about organ donation. He explained how he developed the chatbot in a “very conversational tone to cater to students' messaging styles" as well as a few posters to appeal to younger people.
“The bot is very helpful to get the attention of young people. The chat takes about 60 seconds to complete, where after the users can post their heroic organ donor status on their Instagram stories, Facebook or LinkedIn profiles," he said.
Wright has also launched another project called SimplyMed this year which provides notes, exercises, videos, study techniques and tips for his peers studying medicine. The idea for Save7 arose from the work he was doing in developing material for SimplyMed.
Wright said his organ donation campaign is still a work in progress but that he hopes to release it in the near future. “The bot has been endorsed by Stellenbosch University's Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and will be used by the Organ Donor Foundation in early 2022. “It can be shared via WhatsApp, Facebook, LinkedIn or any other website. In addition, I have created QR codes that link directly to the bot which will be placed on numerous eye-catching posters around the university," he said.
While he will start the campaign at Stellenbosch University, his longer-term goal is to roll it out to other universities, as well as to schools and work spaces.
“I would like this campaign to go nationwide so that information on organ donation is more accessible and in the public eye. It is an issue that affects a lot of people. Currently about 5 000 people need organs, but about only 0.2% of the South Africa population are donors, which is sad.
“I am hoping that by providing access to information and by making it interesting, we can get the word out there on how easy and important it is to become an organ donor. I really hope the campaign will do that in a fun, engaging way and one which ultimately saves people's lives in the long term."
Wright grew up in Hout Bay in the Western Cape and attended Bishops Diocesan College on a bursary, where he completed matric with 10 distinctions.
His interest in medicine was sparked at a young age by his mother, who constantly suffered from migraines, and this was later cemented by the loss of two of his grandparents to illness.
“I wanted to know more … I wanted to learn about these medical issues so that I could help people like my mother and other people."
At the age of 16, he job shadowed some neurosurgeons at Groote Schuur Hospital, and he really enjoyed it. “I was fascinated to learn more about how the brain works. The brain has such an amazing capacity – yet we still know so little about how it works. It is the one untapped region of our anatomy." He also watched some surgeries being performed on stroke survivors, and then embarked on various medical courses through correspondence with Harvard University.
Simultaneously, Wright has developed a passion for technology and how it can be used in South Africa to improve healthcare and healthcare education.
“I've always loved learning new things and finding ways to integrate various fields, in particular medicine and technology. This is where I want to make my mark on the world," he said.
When asked why he thinks South Africans are relatively complacent about organ donation, he replied: “It is a combination of a lot of things, including a lack of information and an element of mistrust."
Wright, who loves spending time with his family and indulging in his passion for music when not working, said he has already identified his next project. “I am fascinated by block-chain technology and believe it can be incorporated into hospitals to keep track of patients' records. It is not being done at the moment and I am interested in exploring the possibilities around this."