A workshop held recently inside the King Abdulaziz Public Library in the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh underlined a common paradox found in Saudi culture today: modern aspirations blending with entrenched customs. More than 120 young and curious volunteers showed up to learn how to use a medical app aimed at delivering health care to the city’s impoverished workers. But they were separated into two sections, one for men and the other for women, who made up the majority in attendance.
The program is called the Triage Project, a health care training program for volunteers, supported by a data collection app, that was launched here in January 2016. It is sponsored by the Nour Nouf Foundation for Knowledge, which wants to foster a knowledge-based culture by supporting innovative and entrepreneurial pioneers in the country.
The Kingdom’s poverty rate is 13%, and while that’s one of the lowest in the Arab world, there are many who have not benefited from the country’s vast oil wealth. “Underserviced communities here are overlooked by everybody, as the current system is not designed to cater to their needs,” says Dr. Shaista Hussain, one of the cofounders of Triage Project.
The app’s creators have held four workshops so far, teaching volunteers basic skills and then deploying them under the supervision of medical team leaders in the poorer communities around the capital of Riyadh. “The idea is to help raise awareness around health and sanitation in these remote, often disconnected areas,” says Princess Sama Faissal Al Saud, Triage Project’s other cofounder. “Health care insurance may be free for all Saudi nationals, but they need to be made aware of that in order to know where to seek medical assistance.” (Life for non-Saudi nationals living below the poverty line is a far worse story.)
The app acts as a digital support system for the volunteers who are collecting the patient’s medical data. The built-in algorithm has a color-coded system that enables effective referrals. A yellow flag signifies that the patient likely needs urgent care, whereas a red one indicates immediate emergency care. In this case, the project leaders immediately contact the relevant local authorities.
“This is not only a technology solution, but a community solution as well,” says Michael A. Smith, one of the Managing Partners at Inspiration Labs, a Florida-based consultancy firm with which the founders are collaborating to expand.
While the project is fully funded by the foundation, the cofounders have also devised a business strategy to ensure sustainable growth plans. “The application structure and database are our key business assets, in that we can modify the application for any number of interests,” says Hussain.
If successful, the model could very well be replicated in other emerging countries around the world. The two founders recently met with a medical representative of the World Bank to discuss the idea of implementing the training program and app model in other developing countries. They also met with various foundations and pharmacies across Saudi Arabia, including the Al Nahdi Medical Company, one of the largest pharmaceutical chains in the Middle East and North Africa.
With their latest workshop just completed, the volunteers of the Triage Project are now ready for the upcoming medical visits, which will include a total of 15 neighborhoods around the capital. “We hope to cover 300 patients in that time,“ says Al Saud. “Thanks to this workshop and these visits, we will hopefully have enough data to make our information statistically relevant to the entire country.”