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Bridging The Refugee Healthcare Gap With Digital Healthcare Technologies

The Syrian refugee crisis is a topic that we have previously explored, and unfortunately the issue has only escalated over the past few months. According to the UN, 13.5 million people are in need of aid in Syria, and over 50% of the total population is displaced. With shortages in funding translating to roughly $0.70 cents per day for sustenance per refugee, and some countries opting not to offer any form of resettlement assistance, humanitarians are scrambling for alternative support options.

“War has ravaged our country’s health system, and attacking hospitals and doctors has made this horrible situation even worse.”

Mercy Corps, an organization that has worked to provide food, shelter, and water to the millions of people affected by the turmoil, estimates that over 220,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of dangerous conditions in the area. The brave doctors who attempt to help refugees, and the hospitals where they work at are the targets of violent attacks meant to thwart these humanitarian efforts. With the working conditions being so unsafe for medical professionals, telemedicine has become a crucial tool in delivering quality healthcare to the most dire areas.

Telemedicine used to bridge healthcare accessibility gap

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) has been instrumental in providing accessible telemedicine services that address the lack of medical professionals available in the field. There are distance-learning trainings that serve as continuing education courses, a network of volunteer physician specialists that are able to video conference during consultations, and finally telesurgery capabilities for surgeries that require advanced expertise.

The president of SAMS, Ahmad Tarakji, describes how their telemedicine setup works:  

“We have cameras inside the hospital looking directly at each patient, so a physician in North America, for example, will be able to observe a patient through the webcam and view the monitor to read the vital signs. He will also be able to communicate with the patient, if he is awake, and/or his family, and with the local physician and nurses.”

Being able to communicate in real-time with specialists across the globe can help Syrian doctors make an otherwise difficult diagnosis, and also make it easier for victims to connect with doctors when they are forced to relocate.

“While traditional communications such as…community outreach workers/volunteers, town hall meetings, flyers, posters and advertising remain essential, agencies are increasingly using technology for two-way communications with refugees and other beneficiaries.”-Ben Farrell, Senior External Relations Officer, UNHCR

Technology-driven aid for refugees

In addition to telemedicine providers, global movements everywhere are opting to provide more technology driven aid initiatives to assist in the crisis. Last year Unicef began developing the “Virtual School for Education in Crises”, which will allow children and young adults to continue their education regardless of their location or time spend outside of a physical classroom. The World Health Organization (WHO) Lebanon and WHO Jordan are creating an electronic health records database for refugees that will help with preventing disease outbreaks, and also allow their health records to be accessible should they leave the country.

Technology is geared to expand the reach of humanitarian efforts like never before, better allocating financial and labor resources, while protecting medical professionals from the physical danger of the refugee crisis. 

Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.