Soon after starting the spring semester, brothers Hassaan and Senan Ebrahim recall having frequent conversations about COVID-19 in their respective classes.
“At the Kennedy School, we started having discussions along the lines of, ‘Let’s consider the impact of a policy given COVID-19,’” said Hassaan Ebrahim, a Master’s in Public Policy candidate. “For Senan, who’s in his third year at Harvard Medical School, COVID-19 was of course a growing topic of concern.
“We soon began talking about how refugees are going to be one of the hardest hit populations,” said Hassaan. “In Syrian refugee camps, it’s incredibly high-density living with limited opportunities for hygiene — there’s no running water or hand sanitizer.”
Looking for ways to improve the lives of refugees is something that the Ebrahims have long focused on.
“Our family is Syrian — our mother immigrated to the U.S. back in the ’70s to go to MIT. The Syrian refugee crisis was very personal for us,” explained Hassaan. “Many of our family members were impacted, and our grandmother was displaced at one point. The crisis has created 13 million refugees — an entire generation that would never learn to read, and health outcomes that are the worst in the world. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we create an impact in this space?’”
When Senan Ebrahim was working in a Syrian refugee community in Jordan in 2017, he learned that one of doctors’ biggest needs was a way to collect and access patient health information. In 2018, the Ebrahim brothers founded Hikma Health, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that builds software for organizations providing health care to refugee populations.
“What we take for granted as an electronic health record (EHR) in the U.S. typically doesn’t exist amongst refugee populations,” said Senan. “Their doctors don’t have the resources to collect data beyond using paper. When you have thousands of patients and such limited time, trying to rifle through thousands of paper records to personalize their health care becomes a major bottleneck in the system.”