New ITU project: Using technology to increase Rohingya refugee's access to healthcare

The Novo Nordisk Foundation is funding a research collaboration between the IT University and the NGO Friendship to improve the reach of healthcare services in the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh by using technology.

Lars Rune ChristensenBusiness IT DepartmentResearchhealth

The Rohingya refugees are experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in history. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the violence and military operations in Myanmar has led to more than 700.000 Rohingya refugees fleeing across the border to Bangladesh. Many of them are currently living in refugee camps in Bangladesh and the UNCHR reports an unmet need for healthcare among the refugees: "the humanitarian staff can easily feel overwhelmed in the face of the multiple needs".

In collaboration with the Bangladesh-based NGO, Friendship, researchers at IT University of Copenhagen will now investigate how digital applications can support the humanitarian staff. Through a DKK 750.000 grant from The Novo Nordisk Foundation, the project Rohingya mHealth: Increasing Access to Healthcare for the Rohingya Community in the Refugee Camps in Bangladesh has been established. The project is led by associate professor Lars Rune Christensen and PhD fellow Hasib Ahsan, both from the IT University of Copenhagen.

- As human beings, the Rohingya have a right to healthcare. In the present situation of scarcity in terms of resources, nurses and doctors, data and information technology can play a large role towards improving and potentially saving lives. This project is looking in that direction, says Hasib Ahsan.

One of the aims of the project is to develop applications, which helps the humanitarian staff to provide health care services, specifically in relation to mental health and nutrition issues.

- Many of the refugees are traumatized by the violence of recent events, and many of the children suffer from malnutrition” says primary investigator Lars Rune Christensen. He expects three specific outcomes of the project:

- A digital tool that paramedics (and refugees) can use to screen and refer refugees with mental health issues to treatment at clinics within the camps.
- An application that supports parents in giving their babies and small children
the best available diet.
- Update of the already existing platform, MHealth, a mobile application that supports doctors and paramedics in identifying and locating the refugees with the most urgent needs for treatment.

The project will run until June 2020 and Lars Rune Christensen hopes that results of the project can be used to improve the humanitarian response to wars and large-scale conflicts in other parts of the world:

- If this project is successful, we would like to investigate if our ideas and methods could be applied in similar settings in other parts of the world. Worldwide, there are a large number of refugee camps where people are living under poor health conditions and where the humanitarian staff are struggling to reach the people in urgent need for care, he says.

Further information

Jari Kickbusch, phone 7218 5304, email jark@itu.dk