The Problem

Coming into VHacks, we knew we wanted to build something that would solve a real problem and be worth sustaining past the weekend of VHacks. We took advantage of the environment at VHacks and spent more than half the hacking period focusing on understanding the human problems faced by refugees and migrants, instead of the technology (we didn’t touch code until 9pm Saturday night!).

We found that there’s actually no shortage of apps designed to address the refugee crisis, but as the UNHCR notes, they aren’t designed close to their users and don’t address their problems in a meaningful way. Luckily, we were fortunate enough to be connected with a doctor in a refugee camp who spoke of her problems recording all her patients’ medical history on paper and finding it difficult to communicate across languages and cultures (especially since medical information is often a sensitive topic!). With further research, we found that widespread use of paper records was a huge problem -- these records were “incomplete, inaccurate, illegible,” and difficult to maintain without strong administrative procedures.

We found that other organizations like the UNHCR and IOM recognized these problems and were actively working their own EMRs for refugee camps, but these solutions clearly required a lot of logistical effort to deploy, and they hadn’t reached many doctors and patients.

With these factors in mind, we designed a lightweight “bottom-up” solution that could be deployed on an individual level, patient-by-patient, instead of requiring large-scale administrative compliance and total upheaval of medical procedures in refugee camps. We wanted our solution to recognize and support existing doctor workflows as well as efforts of existing large-scale organizations without imposing an entirely new system or technology.

Introducing Sajal

Sajal is a lightweight electronic medical record that migrants and refugees can carry around with them on their journey. They register one time, receive a QR code they can screenshot easily that carries all their medical records between camps and countries, for life. When they see a doctor, the doctor simply needs a QR code reader to access the record online (no need for them to download an app or use a specific system!). On the patient’s page, they can view their entire medical history and record notes and apps by text or voice. Doctor notes are automatically transcribed, translated, and searchable across languages using IBM’s speech-to-text API, so if a doctor can easily see if a patient has had a history of problems in a specific area, and do so without worrying about miscommunication with the patient.

What's next for Sajal

We're proud that we were able to take a human-centric approach to the problem, putting people’s needs at the center of our project instead of the technology, and that our solution has immediate value to individuals (instead of requiring many people to be on our platform before it has value).

Hackathon code is often sufficient for a proof-of-concept but notoriously messy, so we're planning to re-architect and re-implement the whole system. The final product will be scalable and include all the features we didn't have time to add to this MVP -- including machine learning for diagnostic assistance, a better doctor onboarding process (for doctors who are seeing Sajal for the first time), privacy and authentication measures to protect patient data, a QR code recovery process, SMS registration, and many more!

The refugee doctor that helped us design our initial prototype is already excited to pilot this with her patients! Our team is currently working on getting more funding and support for this project long-term. If your organization is interested in supporting us or piloting this with refugees or doctors you know, reach out to us at! We're excited to build a future where refugees and migrants can travel with the peace of mind that their medical history is safe and sound, and doctors can treat them effectively wherever they go.

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