Scottish University researchers develop COVID-19 help app for refugees


A SCOTTISH university has developed a mobile phone app to help refugees communities stay safe from COVID-19. 

Researchers from Heriot-Watt University have developed an app that provides information about how to prevent contracting  COVID-19 as well as other information points that they hope will keep refugees safe.

The RefugeeHelpVirus  aims to specifically help Rohingya refugees living in South East Asia during the COVID-19 crisis.

The new COVID-19 app provides information about how to prevent Covid-19; symptom awareness; what to do if feeling unwell; and who to contact if needing help.

The app also allows immediate updates with regard to new local directives or other information relevant to the on-going Covid-19 situation.

The app has been developed in close partnership with Aspire Penang, an NGO based in Penang, Malaysia, which works closely with the refugee community with support of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.  

Based on the input and feedback from the refugees themselves, messages are presented in a range of languages and utilise a graphic interface to maximise accessibility.

Information is provided in both audio and written formats with maps showing the location of hospitals, clinics and other places to go for help.   

Professor Lynne Baillie from the Mathematical and Computer Science department at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh is leading the project in collaboration with Dr Gina Netto, an expert in ethnic minority and refugee communities from the University’s Urban Institute. 

Professor Baillie said: “This work is vital to strengthen the support available to a particularly vulnerable group at high risk during the pandemic.

“Refugees in Malaysia face many challenges and the Rohingya people are among the most discriminated in the world. 

“As a global university committed to addressing the many challenges faced by different groups during this pandemic, our app is designed to be as accessible as possible.

“It will help to limit the spread of infection as well as supporting refugee women, men and children with clear information on aid and safety systems available.”

The project was funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund, Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Scottish Funding Council. 

The app is available for free download from both Google Play and the Apple app store.

“Lives can be saved by building understanding about the symptoms and knowing when to seek help, therefore reducing the burden on front line medical workers and potentially overstretched government agencies.” 

A spokesperson from Aspire Penang welcomed the initiative from Heriot-Watt University, saying: “This has been a very positive partnership, with the engagement of the refugee community at the core of the design, development and testing of this app.

“It is a great example of an initiative which not only meets a particular immediate need but uses a methodology which integrates the initiative into the on-going, long-term, community-based work supporting refugee ownership and empowerment.”