SARTELL, Minnesota — For more than 13,000 refugees from Turkey, Syria and Afghanistan, the Moria refugee camp is the entry point to Europe. Located along the eastern coast of the Greece island of Lesvos, the coastal beaches near the camp receive a constant stream of asylum seekers who have made the harrowing six-mile boat ride across the Mediterranean Sea from the coast of Turkey. A new electronic health records system in place to help these refugees. The Frontida Records in Moria is able to track the healthcare needs of refugees using digital tools.
The Moria Refugee Camp
Moria has come to represent Europe’s inability to address the influx of displaced people seeking asylum. The camp holds more than four-times its carrying capacity and lacks the governmental backing from the European Union to provide running water, food, electricity and health care for its residents, many of whom have experienced trauma.
When the coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020, refugee communities became one of the most vulnerable populations to infection due to the chronic under-resourcing of their living conditions. To mitigate viral spread, the camp quarantined new arrivals from those already at the camp. The camp was under a stringent lockdown through mid-September. This resulted in isolation that some have called unethical.
Frontida Records: Digital Tools to Document Refugee Healthcare
The non-profit organization Frontida Records understood the urgency of the healthcare situation in Moria amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Students of the University of Southern California (USC) founded the organization in March 2020. Frontida Records’ mission is to create digital health tools accessible for under-resourced physicians and patients. In a recent interview with The Borgen Project, members of the Frontida Records team discussed its solution for ethical medical practices for refugees.
Lauren Yen, the co-founder alongside Laura Roed and CEO of Frontida Records, explained the basis of the project. “After talking with some of the clinicians in the camp, [we realized]they had no way to document medical records online. They were doing things on paper; things were fragmented and not accurately written down. You couldn’t read their handwriting. The way they documented their care was extremely disorganized and not a good way of keeping personal protective information, which is vital to health. We decided to work on a solution to work on electronic health records so that they could be online, safe, accurate and in a timely manner.”
Addressing Continuity of Care Amidst Disaster
A massive fire tore through the Moria refugee camp on September 9, 2020. It took with it homes and the storage site of the hand-written medical records of the camp. There were no reported fatalities, but the loss of any medical documentation heightened the risk of erroneous medical care. Quincy Guenther, Frontida Records’ Chief of Strategy, addressed this.
“We believe that electronic health records can reduce misdiagnoses, increase efficiency, and ultimately, save lives. Especially in Greece, when you have thousands and thousands of people who underwent some sort of trauma, and that documentation was lost. That’s totally unacceptable… Everyone who is serious about healthcare has to be serious about documenting medical care in a way that’s safe and responsible.”
So far, Frontida Records has deployed an electronic health records (EHR) system to collect information from camp health providers. It also launched a COVID-19 triage system for sending patients to different clinics within the camp. In addition, Frontida Records is creating an app for patients as team member Ayeshna Desai described. “We’re in the process of making a Patient Portal so refugees will be able to log in and have access to their medical records in a mobile, portable way that they can take with them wherever they go to continue their care. This is also going to be available in the languages [such as]Arabic, Farsi, French, and English.”
Promoting Refugee Autonomy and Responsible Cyber-Security
Refugee autonomy is also paramount in engineering the Frontida Records tools. When the app and Patient Portal is ready, it will be up to the refugees to decide who has access to their medical records after leaving the camps. The technology will also safeguard their information. Kristof Osswald, Frontida Record’s Engineering Lead, said, “We created a very secure and safe environment to house all the data. There are breach-mitigation mechanisms in place to ensure that if anything weird happens, we’ll know about it and take the proper steps to address it.”
Diverse Backgrounds Tackle a Complex Issue
The Frontida Records project began with a USC Viterbi School of Engineering course and two research trips to Moria. These were aimed at engineer solutions tailored to the refugee and camp employees’ needs. Jessica Williams, Frontida Records Chief of Staff, shared, “Frontida means caring in Greek… [For} each of us who went there, a piece of our hearts are still in Greece… It was why we chose the name. We want it to tie back to where the inspiration came from.”
Since its founding, the Frontida Records team has grown to comprise students of six different schools at USC. The team has been impressively collaborating with physicians and global leaders entirely remotely due to the demands of the pandemic. Moving forward, Frontida Records plans to create digital health tools for other under-served populations and more comprehensive EHR systems.
The Frontida Records team would like to give special thanks to the USC Viterbi School of Engineering as well as their mentors, Professors Burcin Bercerik-Gerber, Brad Cracchiola, Daniel Druhora and David Gerber. The work they have done to help refugees can make a huge difference in providing the correct healthcare for those in need. Frontida Records in Moria may help inspire other refugee camps to use the necessary digital health tools to help refugees.
– Tricia Lim Castro