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Telepsychiatry in the Arab World: A Viewpoint Before and During COVID-19

Authors El Hayek S, Nofal M, Abdelrahman D, Adra A, Al Harthi M, Al Shamli S, AlNuaimi N, Bensid L, Cheaito MA, Emberish AM, Larnaout A, Radwan A, Slaih M, Kobeissy F, Bizri M

Received 17 August 2020

Accepted for publication 5 November 2020

Published 19 November 2020 Volume 2020:16 Pages 2805—2815


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Roger Pinder

Samer El Hayek,1 Marwa Nofal,2 Doaa Abdelrahman,3 Ali Adra,4 Mansour Al Harthi,5 Siham Al Shamli,6 Nawaf AlNuaimi,7 Lynda Bensid,8 Mohamad Ali Cheaito,9 Alkhansa Mahdi Emberish,10 Amine Larnaout,11 Ahmed Radwan,12 Mohammad Slaih,13 Firas Kobeissy,14 Maya Bizri1

1Department of Psychiatry, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon; 2Helwan Mental Health Hospital, Cairo, Egypt; 3The Sudan Medical Specialization Board, Khartoum, Sudan; 4Department of Psychiatry, Damascus University, Damascus, Syria; 5Department of Psychiatry, Prince Sultan Military Medical City, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; 6Oman Medical Specialty Board, Psychiatry Program, Muscat, Sultanet of Oman; 7Psychiatric Department, Al Ain Hospital, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; 8Department a, University of Algiers, Drid Hocine Hospital Specialized in Psychiatry, Algiers, Algeria; 9Department of Emergency Medicine, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon; 10Alrazi Hospital for Mental Health, Tripoli, Libya; 11Psychiatry Department D, Razi Hospital, Faculty of Medicine of Tunis, Tunis El Manar University, Tunis, Tunisia; 12Mental Health Service, Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar; 13National Center for Mental Health, Ministry of Health, Amman, Jordan; 14Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon

Correspondence: Samer El Hayek
Department of Psychiatry, American University of Beirut, Bliss Street, PO Box: 11-0236, Riad El Solh, Beirut 1107 2020, Lebanon
Tel +961 70941362

Purpose: Telepsychiatry, a subset of telemedicine, has been increasingly studied to meet the growing demands for psychiatric care. The utility of telepsychiatry is relevant now more than ever as the world endures the COVID-19 global pandemic. This paper describes the prior state and the changes that the COVID-19 outbreak brought to telepsychiatry in a selected group of Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Patients and Methods: We invited twelve early-career psychiatrists from different Arab nations to share information related to telepsychiatry in their respective countries before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The information was collected using a semi-structured guide. This was complemented by a search for relevant articles in five search engines using terms such as “COVID-19,” “telepsychiatry,” and “Arab world”.
Results: Before the pandemic, digital mental health services were provided in several Arab countries, mainly through hotlines and messaging services. The COVID-19 pandemic has marked a major shift in digital psychiatric services in the Arab MENA world, through the transformation of many clinics and some hospitals into digital mental health systems. Many non-governmental organizations also started remote initiatives for psychological support and psychiatric counseling. Three main barriers of patient-related, healthcare-related, and system-related hurdles of using telepsychiatry emanated from the analysis.
Conclusion: The use of digital mental health services varies between different Arab countries. Even though some nations have laws that regulate the provision of such services, most struggle with multifactorial barriers. As affordable and attainable solutions cannot only rely on training and recruiting more psychiatrists, telepsychiatry would help meet the exceeding demands in the Arab world, particularly after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Keywords: telepsychiatry, mental health, Arab, COVID-19

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