Utilization of mobile mental health services among syrian refugees and other vulnerable arab populations—a systematic review

Adeel Ashfaq, Shawn Esmaili, Mona Najjar, Farva Batool, Tariq Mukatash, Hadeer Akram Al-Ani, Patrick Marius Koga

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


The global refugee crisis is at its most critical state in history; Syria alone has produced 12 million internally displaced persons, with another 5 million refugees seeking protection across the globe. Faced with the heavy burden of mental distress carried by a massive refugee influx, many host nations lack the service capacity to respond adequately. While mobile mental health (mMHealth) applications and platforms have the potential to augment screenings and interventions for vulnerable populations, an insufficient gender and cultural adaptation of technology may drastically hamper its uptake in Arab refugees. Reporting only papers originating from Middle Eastern and/or Arab nations or refugee host nations, this systematic review evaluates the available literature published between 2000 and 2019 on the usage acceptability of mMHealth in Syrian refugees and other vulnerable Arab populations. We conducted a systematic review in PubMed, PsychInfo, Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) using Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines to identify studies that addressed mMHealth implementation in these populations; of a total of 607 articles identified, only 10 (1.6%) available, unique articles met our search criteria. These studies discussed the feasibility and efficacy of mMHealth applications and the barriers to their uptake. The few existing studies show positive impacts of mMHealth on the access to services and on treatment outcomes but also reveal a paucity of literature on mMHealth for vulnerable Arab populations. These findings indicate a critical need for research on the barriers to mMHealth uptake, to bolster service capacity in the Arab Region and in the refugee diaspora of other, non-Arab host countries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1295
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • Arab Region
  • Health capacity
  • Mental health
  • MMHealth
  • Mobile health
  • Refugees
  • Syrian refugee
  • Telehealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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