A team of doctors have created Lebanon’s first Internet-based service primarily aimed at providing frontline medical assistance to refugees and low-income families living within the country’s borders.
The initiative, named ‘What’s Up Doc’ was formed through a collaboration of medical experts working in hospitals in Beirut with the intention of targeting the many thousands of refugees in Lebanon and those living in the more remote parts of the country.
The website’s creator’s say its aim is to provide affordable frontline, quality medical aid - especially to refugees and low-income families using the Internet as a means of communicating with and diagnosing patients.
Lebanon has already accepted more than one million Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The majority of these refugees are living in sub-substandard conditions and have relatively little medical assistance.
Radwan Massoud, a post-doctorate research fellow at the department of Hematology at AUBMC and one of the members of the campaign, told Al Arabiya English: “It is not a secret that a majority of the Lebanese people and refugees rely on self-prescriptions instead of seeking professional medical help, simply because it is either not easily accessible or affordable for them.”
“Our project makes medical assistance available for those who need it for a fair price at the touch of a button,” Massoud added.
‘What’s Up Doc’ requires the Internet in order to access the website and allow communication or a video-call. With more than 80 percent of the country able to access the Internet, aid is readily available.
“The Lebanese infrastructure is capable of hosting our video calls, as we will provide the option of lower quality feed in case of weak Internet connection,” Massoud said.
Other options included are mobile medical units provided by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), which are tents put together and taken apart with ease to be able to navigate from one area to the other during times of need.
“These mobile medical units allow us to reach areas that are difficult to reach. This means this year and last, when we had snowfall mobile medical units were dispatched quickly to areas that get cut off,” UNICEF communications officer Salam Abdelmunem told Al Arabiya English.
“For example when refugees reach areas like Wadi Khaled and even Arsal, because these are areas where parents are too scared to move because of their residency issues. So at least you provide them with the basic needs, and again this is quite basic, because doctors there cannot administer anything that you cannot get over the counter,” he added.
Patients with serious health concerns that cannot be treated locally might find it difficult to reach the closest proper medical facilities due to high costs of transportation and external factors.
“When they [refugees] don’t have access to work and they don’t have money, a taxi ride from the settlement to the city which could be 10,000 Lebanese Lira ($7) is a lot of money for them,” Abdelmunem said.
“Even distances that we consider reasonable, in terms of access to medical centers become problematic because the mother could have two kids that she’s dragging along with her other ill kid.”
Dr Michèle Kosremelli Asmar, president of Include, a non-profit NGO that aims to raise awareness about the necessity to promote inclusion, told Al Arabiya English, “The number of individuals making use of these centers [primary healthcare centers] remains limited (estimated at a maximum of 20 percent of the population) and the quality of services varies by region and provider.”
But Massoud believes that he and the medical team is doing can bridge the gap by sending doctors at affordable prices to the patients.
“‘What’s Up Doc’ charges less for a regular consultation, and provides more services in return, such as house calls,” he said.
Equal medical rights
NGOs such as UNHCR cover most of the consultation fees for all refugees and 85 percent of the cost of diagnostic procedures for selected groups. Life-saving situations are prioritized, which sometimes leave patients with serious, but not critical, cases having to wait.
“Essential services for those most in need remain a priority, especially reproductive healthcare, services for infants and young children, and mental healthcare,” Public information officer for UNHCR in Lebanon Dana Sleiman told Al Arabiya English that the, saying.
The goal for most medical organizations, such as UNICEF and ‘What’s Up Doc’, is to allow equal medical care to all inhabitants of the country, whether they are Lebanese citizens or refugees.
“This is not the long term solution, the long-term solution from our [UNICEF] point of view is to ensure that the primary healthcare centers and the national healthcare providers are supported financially and possess the skills to respond to the needs of any child or woman who enters the primary healthcare center so that we don’t differentiate between Lebanese and refugees,” Abdulmunem said.
“We want Lebanese citizens as well as refugees to access their right to healthcare without any tremendous obstacle whether it is geographical, economical or even when it comes to their personal comfort,” Massoud added.