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Refugees and Health: Part 2

This week we will be looking more specifically on the UK’s health system, and where exactly refugees fit in.


With the recent news that 52% of the UK voted for, and got, a Brexit, and the increased interest around immigration in the UK, we at MedSin decided to deal directly with what immigration means for the UK, and how the healthcare system can shift its focus to deal with this better.


In particular, we’re going to look at the effects of the 23,000 or so asylum seekers on the UK’s health system. Asylum seekers are be fleeing from unrest and persecution, and as result, they often have complex health and social care needs. Indeed, they include people who are even more vulnerable, such as pregnant women, unaccompanied children and people with significant mental ill-health. 


As a result, the types of people who claim asylum may have communicable diseases - in their country of origin, the healthcare system may be poor and as a result, immunisation levels may be low. They also need more sexual health care, due to low family planning uptake, poor antenatal care and poor pregnancy outcomes. Facts such as how asylum seeking pregnant women are seven times more likely to develop complications during childbirth, and three times more likely to die than the general population really emphasise this point. In addition, chronic diseases aren’t just a “Western” disease - conditions such as diabetes may not have been diagnosed in the country of origin, a fact which may be overlooked by healthcare professionals. Interestingly dental disorders are also commonly reported in this group, showing us that treating refugees needs healthcare professionals from all different fields. 

What’s not so likely to come to mind, however, when you think of “asylum seekers” and “health” are the mental problems that arise as a consequence of being subjected to torture, or distressing situations. In particular, there and have been in communities where there is a stigma around mental health problems. Children in particular may be treated physically but suffering from problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, giving numbers which are vastly underestimated. 


However the fact of the matter is that many asylum seekers arriving in the UK do have good physical health. It’s the effects of not being able to access healthcare services very easily, a lack of knowledge on what they are entitled to, and language barriers that lead to those problems developing quickly once they’re in the UK. 

So how do we deal with this fundamental problem in helping deal with the health needs of refugees?


Well, we can help by raising awareness of the need for health representation in groups who represent migrants, including more specifically designated GP practices to deal with asylum seekers. We can ensure that these health and social care needs are all addressed, including mental problems, and included in the plans for their development and local public health. We can promote both the needs of asylum seekers among healthcare professionals, making sure their interventions such as for HIV/AIDS are culturally appropriate, and the services available to asylum seekers, and monitor how well these services are working.

Perhaps most importantly we can look at this from a holistic point of view: it’s all very well saying that it’s a problem for the health services to look at. But that’s not true. It’s for the economists to look at how efficient these services are, those involved in management to help coordinate these, the geographers and the scientists to look at the data on public health, and just about everyone else to get involved with their specialist skills.

MedSin is about learning about, and then looking at global health and what YOU can do to get involved.


So, this is a question for you readers. You’ve heard a bit about the health needs of asylum seekers, and the kind of recommendations to help them. What do you think about them? Would you agree? Do you have any better suggestions? 

Whatever your opinion, we would love to hear about them either in the comments or at the MedSin meetings! 

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