Free Prenatal Advice For Refugees? There's an App For That!

For the past 2 years, the aftershocks of what has been called a "refugee crisis" have been felt worldwide. With imagery reminiscent of cataclysmic natural disasters and strong but inconsistent action from policymakers, politicians, and other influential figures, sometimes one very significant figure is overlooked, the refugee. Characterizations of the movement of millions of people, like flood, stream, disaster and even crisis often distract from the reality of events so horrible that human beings must flee their homes, as well as the detrimental affects on their lives.

It's not just fleeing and integration that are large issues but the very basics of healthcare and education. Receiving and maintaining an appropriate level of healthcare has been the interest of many groups who work with and for refugees, including aid organizations, NGOs and startups. One startup that is looking to improve the health of refugees is Hababy. Implemented by EmpowerHack, a global volunteer design, and technology collective, Hababy was formed to ensure that pregnant refugees are provided with prenatal care information online so that they can access this information regardless of their location or status.

Hababy has the potential to rapidly access women that need help under a intransit/refugee camp context. The project is exploring how lightweight information, such as quick identification of life-threatening pregnancy symptoms, a patient-owned health record and timely resources for medical professionals, can improve care.

Hababy, which is still in the prototype stage, is aimed at helping pregnant refugees identify and respond adequately to red flags in their pregnancy that put them at risk. The app, which is available in English and Arabic, also brings medical professionals and the pregnant refugees who use it closer together by encouraging their frequent communication. In the future, they would like to help standardize the approach which is taken to prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant refugees living in camps. They already work directly with several partners, which include the Muslim Doctors Association.

How does it work? The app provides general advice depending on the current trimester of the user. The user may enter their symptoms into the app, usually by selecting them from a list. After symptoms are selected, the user is directed to actions they may take (including pictural representations of the action) and provided with suggestions of what to relay to their doctor. The app can also offer country-specific information, which includes eligibility for free support programs and the names of generic medicines, which are usually cheaper.

In time, they hope to implement an anonymous message board and a live chat feature with healthcare professionals, so questions can be answered and users don't have to feel embarrassed or be put in danger by providing information to receive treatment.

It's important that the features of their product be available for smartphones because, as we talked about in a previous article, many refugees travel with their smartphones. In fact, 80% of the refugees arriving in Germany alone have their smartphones with them. This not only helps them navigate and stay in touch with their family members, but it helps them access services and information via apps and sites configured for mobile use. Hababy is working on making their services available by SMS for legacy phones which are not able to download the app.

The target group for Hababy is transitory and stationary female refugee populations, specifically in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Greece, Germany, France, the UK, Sweden, Turkey, and Hungary. These women suffer a greater risk of mental and physical health complications during their pregnancies especially with the risks of malnutrition, TB, congenital birth defects and high IMR. When combined with varying levels of health care coverage from NGOs and government assistance, these pregnant people sometimes fall between the cracks.

Many of these pregnancies are unplanned and are typically without continuous care. A challenge that Hababy sees, especially for young mothers under 15 who are a higher risk than mothers in their 20's is lack of access to contraception and healthcare. Birthrates in refugee camps are therefore much higher and much riskier. Solutions to these issues must be multifold and in the end, due to the limitations of the host country governments and NGOs, will have to be multi-organizational as well. Hababy's ability to identify a trend (poor maternal healthcare) and implement solutions that are free, don't require internet access (after the app is downloaded) and accessible perfectly reflects the hard work of all of the caring people involved in making a difference for mothers in need.