Telehealth for refugees, a lifeline service in Moldova
July 14, 2022
“After the initial shock is gone, refugees start to adapt to their new situation and think of their health status, both physical and mental,” says endocrinologist Luminita Suveica in Chisinau. Luminita is a partner of the CSO “Homecare”, which facilitates tele-consultations for refugees from Ukraine as part of the EU-funded Confidence Building Measures Programme implemented by UNDP.
Four months after the onset of the war in Ukraine, many Moldovan doctors note an increased workload. Tele-medicine eases the burden, explains Tatiana Adașan, Director of CSO “Homecare”. “Moldova faces a shortage of health professionals and people often lack funds to travel to districts’ capitals to consult specialists. That is why we established a telehealth platform in 2019, which we opened up for refugees.”
So far, 350 tele-consultations for refugees were conducted by doctors of various specializations: family doctor, cardiologist, endocrinologist, surgeon, psychologist, dermatologist. Twenty nurses throughout the country were involved.
"I could not imagine that such a war would start, and when I provide consultations for refugees, including online, I try my best to offer empathy and compassion, besides medical help,” says family doctor Grigore Bivol.
In most of cases, tele-consultations complement traditional checkups, says Luminita Suveica: “After we first see the patient and recommend investigations, we may then follow-up online on the recommended treatment.”
Getting to the root cause: stress and anxiety
“I met refugees who managed to leave the country at the beginning of the war and made stock of medicines for their underlying conditions. But I also see people who came from the epicenter of the war, after hiding in basements without medicines. They are really vulnerable, depressed and need a lot of attention,” says Grigore Bivol.
Most refugee patients covered by the tele-health initiative suffer from diabetes, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure or other chronic or acute diseases, and need specialized consultations. These conditions are sometimes triggered or aggravated by stress and anxiety.
"Now we are at the stage of differentiating the state of stress from the disease itself, because psychosomatic symptoms have grown a lot in recent months, not only among refugees, but also among local population. Living permanently in fear translates in more patients. We treat them holistically, tackling not just the disease, but also the psychosocial aspects."Luminița Suveica, endocrinologist
Lots of endocrine disfunctions are provoked by an emotional state, she explains: "I have patients whose blood sugar have quickly normalized, following a few meetings, during which they realized it was panic that made them feel very thirsty,” not the diabetes.”
UNDP and EU provided immediate support to Moldovan communities to help refugees from Ukraine. Besides the provision of sanitary kits, medical and psychological consultations were also facilitated.