Co-Designing mHealth Technologies with Youth: The REACH4Health App

Melissa Toman (SIPA'22)
November 01, 2021

​​On October 7, the “Co-Designing mHealth Technologies with Youth: The REACH4Health App'' hybrid panel was held as part of the Refugees Act and Communicate for Health (REACH) project. This event celebrated the launch of the REACH4Health App, which was created to address health literacy issues within refugee, migrant, and local youth communities in Turkey. The event itself was divided into two panels. The first, moderated by Professor Selma Karabey, included panelists Dr. Özge Karadag, İnanç Sümbüloğlu, and Yamama Shahid, who discussed the research findings of REACH Turkey. In the second panel, moderator Assistant Professor Yanis Ben Amor was joined by panelists Dr. Özge Karadag, Damla Ceyhan, Emin Ayar, Yasmina Peker, and Canan Demir, who introduced the REACH4Health App itself and its features.

The goal of the REACH project is to find solutions for urgent global problems, especially those relevant to refugees, forced migrants, and underserved youth communities. The program employs community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) and conducts research with rather than on these communities to assess the impact of information and communication technologies on accessing reliable health information and available health services for countries that host large refugee populations. The REACH project is supported by the International Cooperation and Development Fund of Taiwan (TaiwanICDF), Blue Chip Foundation, and Columbia University, the REACH Project in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan is implemented with the collaboration of Center for Sustainable Development of Columbia University, Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul and Amman, Istanbul University, American University of Beirut, German Jordanian University, Bir İZ Association, Community Volunteers Foundation (TOG), Youth Approaches to Health Association (SGYD) and Digital Opportunity Trust-Lebanon.

The REACH4Health App was developed to address the health literacy of refugees through technology. Although healthcare is free to everyone who registers in Turkey, studies had found that young refugees and migrants were not accessing the services. Through interactions with refugees and local youth in Turkey, the team quickly learned that this was due to barriers these communities faced in accessing youth-friendly health insurance and health care services, such as language, laws, cultural norms, and stigmas. This inspired the need to implement more innovative, youth-friendly, and widely-used solutions to address the health education and health care needs of young people. By creating these opportunities, the team believed that they could positively impact the health and wellbeing of refugees and migrants, host societies, human and financial resources of host countries, the building and maintaining peace, and community engagement of disadvantaged, marginalized communities in policies and practices. Utilizing technology, the REACH project sought to develop a platform to bridge the gap in health literacy and health care access to refugee and disadvantaged youth.

After the first panel discussed the process of generating the concepts behind the REACH4Health App, the conversation transitioned to the second panel to discuss the development of the app itself and its features. Working with refugees, local youth, software developers, academia, local health authorities, UN organizations, and NGOs, the REACH4Health App was developed. While other apps focused on actually diagnosing health problems or provided content related to the treatment of health problems, REACH4Health focused primarily on increasing health literacy, health promotion, and access to health care. The team conducted field studies, stakeholder meetings, and app development workshops with youth groups to understand what content the actual users would like to see. Some key desired features included free download and use, low battery and memory consumption, ability to give feedback, and privacy in regards to personal information and search histories.

Some of the content included in the app pertains to nutrition, maternal and child care, sexual and reproductive health topics, and health rights and laws concerning refugee populations. Users can identify information on specific health service providers, such as their location, hours and hays of operation, type of provider, and contact information. There is a Frequently Asked Question page, as well as a platform to speak with experts and ask questions. Through collaboration with groups like Community Volunteers Foundation (TOG) and Youth Approaches to Health Association (SGYD) the app has created a network of over 800 young people in Turkey so far.

The app is currently available in Turkish, English, and Arabic for Android and iOS formats, and while it is currently only based on resources available in Turkey, the team is working to expand the app to Lebanon and Jordan shortly. Please consider downloading and exploring the app, as the developers are excited to continue editing and adding features based on user feedback provided. It is their hope that the REACH4Health App will increase health literacy and access to health care amongst refugees, migrants, and local youth.