COVID-19 Innovation and Research Project (CIRP)

Effectiveness and scalability of innovative digital health solutions responding to the COVID-19 crisis among refugees and vulnerable populations

Duration: 2020 – 2022

Location: Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Syria, Kenya, and Tanzania

Budget: $800,000 (International Development Research Centre (IDRC): $654,000; AKFC: $146,000)

Reach: 5,390 (2,672 F, 2,718 M) users are anticipated to participate in the research studies.

It is important to note that this number does not include the total number of people who will benefit (i.e. community members and health care workers who will download and access the applications). The total reach and project beneficiaries will be calculated across all three innovations during the project.


Using the current COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to identify existing gaps in preparedness and response of health systems, the CIRP is a two-year applied research initiative led by the Aga Khan Development Network’s Digital Health Resource Centre and implemented through the support of Aga Khan Health Services, and Aga Khan University, in close consultation with health system stakeholders.

The project is investigating the effectiveness of developing and scaling up three digital health innovations, with a goal of strengthening health systems and improving access to care for at-risk populations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Syria, Kenya, and Tanzania. Considering the complex challenges faced by these countries, the CIRP deploys a multi-pronged applied research approach, involving the implementation of several studies to explore the effectiveness of the three innovations. The project not only will address the immediate COVID-19 needs but also aims to strengthen the health systems in these countries to be able to respond to such outbreaks in the future.

The first innovation and associated research study is based on CoronaCheck, an artificial intelligence-based mobile application used for COVID-19 self-assessment, awareness raising, behaviour change, and contact tracing for women, men, girls, and boys. It also provides resources on gender-based violence.

The second innovation, VirtualDoc, provides quality, non-urgent teleconsultations for populations who may otherwise face barriers accessing care. These populations include isolated communities, the elderly, those with limited physical mobility, and women and girls.

The third innovation, a personal protective equipment (PPE) mobile application is an educational mobile application for healthcare workers, equipped with best-practice PPE guidelines.

The specific objectives of the CIRP are:

  1. CoronaCheck: To explore the effectiveness of a mobile application in the early detection of COVID-19 infection, contact tracing, ensuring appropriate physical distancing, and uptake of support to reduce gender-based violence for high-risk populations, including women and girls, refugees, and internally-displaced persons;
  2. VirtualDoc: To assess the effectiveness of a telemedicine mobile application in reducing health facility burden by facilitating non-urgent remote care for isolated communities, elderly patients, and women and girls who face particular challenges in accessing healthcare services;
  3. PPE mobile application: To understand the effectiveness of a mobile application in increasing awareness and improving practices related to the use of personal protective equipment among healthcare workers;
  4. To integrate these digital health innovations in health systems, and forge and maintain strong partnerships with local and national health authorities in the target countries.



Poster: Canadian Conference on Global Health 2021

Article: Digital tools to strengthen healthcare and improve access for vulnerable populations