At the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million recorded forcibly displaced people in the world, with 26 million labeled as refugees. Roughly 68% of those displaced come from just five countries, which means that resources can be scarce for many of these people and their physical and mental health may become less of a priority in lieu of other needs. More focus needs to go toward addressing migrant and refugee health in order to protect the well-being of one of the most vulnerable populations.
7 Facts About Migrant and Refugee Health
- The Immigrant, Refugee and Migrant Health Branch (IRMH) is a branch of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine that works to improve the health and well-being of refugees. The IRMH also provides guidelines for disease prevention and tracks cases around the globe in migrant populations. The organization has three teams and five programs that work both in the U.S. and around the world to combat infectious diseases.
Refugees are affected by illness and health issues through transit and in their host communities. Most refugees are likely to be in good health in general, according to the CDC, but migrating tends to be a social determinant in refugee health. Health inequities are increased by conditions such as restrictive policies, economic hardship and anti-migrant views. Poor living conditions and changes in lifestyle also play a role.
Refugee health profiles are compiled through multiple organizations to provide information about important cultural and health factors pertaining to specific regions. Refugees from different areas often have very different health concerns. For example, anemia and diabetes are priority conditions in Syrian refugees but parasitic infections and malaria are the focus for Congolese migrants.
About one-third of migrants and refugees experience high rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders. Mental health is a vital part of all refugee health programs and the priority for youth mental health programming is especially necessary. Forced displacement is traumatic and while there is likely a reduction of high anxiety or depression levels over time after resettlement, some cases can last for years.
Healthcare is often restricted based on legal status within refugee populations. The 1946 Constitution of the World Health Organization articulated that the right to health is an essential component of human rights but many people are limited to claiming this right. Activists for refugee health along with many NGOs call for universal health care and protection for migrant populations.
Important needs in refugee health include the quality and cost of disease screenings. HIV, hepatitis, schistosomiasis and strongyloidiasis are diseases that are prevalent among vulnerable refugee and migrant populations. However, ease and quality of medical screenings are not guaranteed in many centers or camps.
Mothers and children face many barriers due to their unique needs and few refugee health care providers are able to properly address them. There is an increased need for reproductive health services and many of the barriers provide more difficulty than aid to many women. These include language, costs and general stigma.
Prioritizing Vulnerable Populations
The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is well known for its work to safeguard the rights and well-being of people who have been forced to flee. Refugee International is another organization that advocates for the rights and protection of displaced people around the world. Awareness of refugee health facts and concerns enables organizations to take a direct stance on improving conditions and procedures. With the growing number of refugees around the world today, addressing migrant and refugee health must be prioritized in order to better protect these vulnerable populations.
– Savannah Gardner