Health Needs of the MENA Region at Stanford School of Medicine

The Stanford Med MENA program aims to leverage Stanford Med’s expertise in health research, training, and education and apply them to the MENA region. They are building cross-cultural health research and implementation programming that informs policy. The program sends Stanford physicians and trainees to MENA for training, and brings MENA physicians and trainees to Stanford. The team is working to partner locally to enhance the efficiency of healthcare delivery in MENA. Stanford MENA Health is looking for advisors to join the board, and donors for their two programs.

With seed funding from our Stanford President and Dean of Medicine, the new MENA Health Program is focused on understanding and responding systematically to the health needs of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The project heads are Dr. Gary Darmstadt and Laila Soudi from Stanford. They work on three fronts: innovative community-led research, specialized education for health professionals, and regional training for organizations to inform health policy.

If you are interested in supporting their mission of building sustainable and preventive healthcare systems in the MENA region, please go to

VISION: A predictive and preventive healthcare system that is driven by data and local talent to maintain wellness and serve the health needs of the MENA population.

Check out this interview Laila Soudi, Founder and Director Stanford Med | MENA Health Program (Courtesy of TechWadi)

What is the healthcare landscape in the region?

The healthcare landscape in MENA is full of potential—yet also fraught with inefficiencies. MENA regional governmental spending exceeds $50B yearly without directly measurable impact. Our region comprises >6% of the world’s population yet contributes only 1.5% of scientific papers yearly. We lose 1.5M+ lives early that could have been saved with appropriate data and response. We spend money on short-term, culturally inappropriate, and costly solutions from abroad versus building local capacity. With the right research, education, and training, we can save lives and build a more robust healthcare system to better serve all MENA populations.

Can you tell us more about your journey?

Originally from the Middle East, born to a Syrian father and a Palestinian mother, I started going to refugee camps at the age of 13 in Jordan. Then, it became clear to me that working to ensure better access to healthcare for all populations across Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was precisely my mission. After graduating with an undergrad in Psychology/Neuroscience from UC Berkeley and an MSc in Global Health Sciences from UCSF, I joined Stanford University School of Medicine as a neuroscience researcher examining early onset mood disorders. I used this job as an opportunity to meet faculty members across the University and, a year later, met the Vice Chair of Psychiatry at Stanford Med who offered me an opportunity as the first ever global mental health researcher to examine stress and anxiety in MENA refugee populations. In this role, I traveled to 6+ countries and talked to thousands of refugees about their experiences as well as implemented 2 large scale public health programs.

During my time in Greece, at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, I appealed to Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to do more to support refugees. After a pitch meeting with the President’s Office, I was personally funded and appointed to lead the University’s response to the refugee crisis, where I built several programs across the University (from health to education and coding) that continue to help refugees. Less than one year ago, I returned to the President’s office and pitched a base for Stanford Medicine in the Middle East. My request was approved and supported by the University’s highest leadership, including the President and Dean of Medicine. This is now the Stanford Med | MENA Health Program with a goal to serve everyone—regardless of ethnicity—in the MENA region.


For more info please see
Special thanks to Zeena Khazendar, a student at Stanford and an associate with the Stanford Med | MENA Health Program, for sharing this info with us.

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