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UH Moment: ‘Dunia Health’

“I am a Palestinian refugee. I was born in a refugee camp. My parents were born in refugee camps. My grandparents became refugees in 1948. This is really personal to me.”


University of Houston College of Optometry student Batoul Abuharb, and three other US students, saw a need—children in refugee camps were missing essential vaccinations because refugee camp clinicians were stretched thin. Their answer led to the creation of the nonprofit group Dunia Health and to an idea about text messaging the refugee parents.

"Parents feel like they're being cared for by the agency that's supposed to take care of them," Abuharb said. "If you can imagine a clinic with 12 doctors that has to serve 75,000 refugees–that's a small clinic. If they receive a text message, they're like, ‘Wow! This person really cares about me; they know this is important for my child. Maybe I should do something about it."

Using patient information from the UN organization mandated to care for refugees, Abuharb and her colleagues created the text message database. They started in one Jordanian refugee camp. The result? Ninety percent of refugee parents came to the clinic to immunize their children when reminded by text.

"My mom lost a brother to measles. You know people in wheelchairs who have survived polio. So, all of this is very real," she said.

Today, Dunia Health serves more than a million refugees in Jordan. The UN has asked them to expand the text messaging service to reach even more.

"Every time we see someone come back to the clinic and say, ‘Hey I got your text message and it really made me feel important,' that's huge for me," Abuharb said. "I can take my privilege here in the U.S., and the education I have, do something really simple and have a very meaningful impact. It means a lot to me to be able to give back in that way."

Impact is part of what's happening at the University of Houston. I'm Marisa Ramirez


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