During the Covid-19 pandemic when social distancing is a key factor in limiting transmission, Palestinian refugees are able to use smartphone apps to access an online healthcare network through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The refugees receive reminders to take medicine, check blood pressure and exercise. They can check their test results and message healthcare providers.

“We use two applications, Electronic Mother and Child Health (e-MCH) and Non- Communicable Disease (e-NCD) at our health centres. They allow beneficiaries registered at UNRWA health centres to access their electronic health records through the UNRWA e-Health system. Health awareness materials on the applications are accessible to our beneficiaries in the five fields of operations,” said Hanaa Lubad, a senior staff nurse at the UNRWA Saftawi Health Centre.

“The applications enabled us to explain the risk perceptions, behaviors and existing barriers, specific needs, knowledge gaps to our beneficiaries and provide the identified beneficiaries with accurate information tailored to their circumstances,” Hanaa noted.

Mobile healthcare app user Asmaa Abu Sa’da. United Nations photo: Mohamed Hinnawi/UNRWA

“The [e-MCH] application provided me with valuable information on good nutrition and physical exercises needed during pregnancy. It was also very useful for me as I have an electronic copy containing accurate information that doctors can use without the need to bring the hard copies of my previous test results or make new tests. After giving birth, I am using the application to check on the appointment of my daughter's vaccination and observe her growth according to the charts in the application,” explained Asmaa Abu Sa’da.

“During the current COVID-19 crisis, I receive instructions that raise my awareness and guide me to the correct behavior in case any of my family members or I have any symptoms, in addition to the protective measures that I should adhere to. At the same time, the application helps me contact the health centre and seek medical advice without the need to visit a health centre,” Asmaa added.

The health awareness materials on the apps are available to the public in Arabic. The UNRWA e-Health system has been implemented with financial support from the government of Japan and assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). 

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital role of universal health coverage (UHC) in the most tragic way possible,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed in her video message to an online event on the significance of UHC from the perspectives of the Sustainable Development Goals and the role of the United Nations on 13 April. The event was co-organized by the JIIA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and UNIC Tokyo, marking the 60th anniversary of Japan’s universal health insurance system this year.