March 15, 2016 marks the fifth anniversary of the people’s revolution in Syria. Since, the Syrian crisis has forced the displacement of millions of Syrians within the country and to the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, and many others, causing the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II. Today, the UNHCR documents a total of 4,815,868 registered Syrian refugees. In addition, an estimated 11 million people are internally displaced within Syria.
This population of refugees and internally displaced peoples is the ideal environment for the spread of infectious disease. The sheer volume of people has resulted in overcrowding and presents a large risk factor for communicable disease. Combine this overcrowding with unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, poverty, and malnutrition, and the incidence rate of disease spread quickly escalates. These conditions have not gone unnoticed; health care providers are labeling the current situation in Syria as a “public health emergency of global concern.”
In addition to communicable diseases, chronic illnesses or non-communicable diseases pose a significant problem for Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. Inside Syria, the healthcare infrastructure has been completely destroyed and supplies to treat chronic illnesses are extremely limited. In neighboring countries, the high volume of patients and funding limitations are restricting access to quality healthcare.
But as the situation gets increasingly dire, there are certain physicians who are finding a way to make a difference, and one physician is using telemedicine to do so! Dr. Rogy Masri is a medical doctor stationed at a settlement in Northern Lebanon who is treating Syrian refugees in Lebanon and other neighboring countries. One of his most vital tools? His smartphone.
Dr. Masri is using a telemedicine app, Figure 1, to consult specialists on cases unfamiliar to him. He also relies on other telemedicine apps developed by Doctors Without Borders to help with certain patient diagnoses. Masri describes telemedicine as “essential for treating Syrian refugees who don’t have access to specialist care, let alone the quality, regular follow-ups.”
In a world where a smartphone is always within reach, telemedicine can help bridge gaps – no matter how many miles wide. After all, the global telemedicine market is expected to reach a value of $27 billion in 2016 with an annual growth rate of 18.5 percent over the next five years.