Intended for healthcare professionals

Reviews Web

Net gain for Arab health?

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 19 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:863
  1. Yasser Shehata, clinical research fellow1,
  2. Aziz Sheikh (Aziz.Sheikh{at}
  1. 1 professor of primary care research and development, Division of Community Health Sciences: GP Section, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH8 9DX

    The internet remains a relatively new development within much of the Arab world. Although access and use are rapidly increasing, particularly amongst the young, it still figures relatively little in the day to day life of most Arabs. Where used, it is primarily for social reasons. Very few are likely to log on for health information and advice.

    Given this background, the recent launch of Sehetna (, Jordan's first Arabic health portal, is therefore somewhat surprising. Also unusual for a health portal in a Muslim country, is the provision of information about sensitive areas such as reproductive health care, family planning, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV/AIDS.

    The portal, which was launched earlier this year with the enthusiastic support of King Abdullah II, has been developed by the Jordan Communication Partnership for Family Health Program at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, along with government partners.

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    Health advice goes online in Jordan

    In addition to simple factual information, there are also daily health tips, online surveys, and physician directories. There is also the opportunity to submit questions through an “Ask the Expert” feature.

    However, Arab members of the public who tested the site on our request made comments such as “primitive, uninteresting, and irrelevant.” Despite winning this year's Golden Trophy Award (in the health and services category) at the second Pan Arab Web Award, the portal obviously has some way to go to meet public aspirations and override the strong culture of seeking health care from a trusted professional.

    The site has a number of other limitations, including difficulties actually finding it through Arab search engines. Many pages are still under construction. There was also a lack of response from the “Ask the Expert” site. We only received an automated holding response a week after lodging a straightforward enquiry about the role of allergen avoidance measures in asthma. Three weeks later, we are still to receive a response.

    How then could the site be rendered more useful? First, the portal needs to embrace web-casting, and develop audiovisual materials involving well known artists, sports personalities, and politicians to promote the site. Second, there needs to be far more interactivity—for example, disease-based discussion forums.

    There remains a pressing need for a high quality portal of information for Arab healthcare professionals, but given the limitations of the current site, this is probably beyond the scope of Sehetna.

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