Health experts call for unity in providing healthcare to refugees

UNICEF has launched many initiatives to raise awareness in the developing world about vaccinations. [Julien Harneis/Flickr]

The director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) European branch has called for Europe to take a unified approah to the issue of refugee health. EURACTIV Spain reports.

In Rome this week, EU health ministers and WHO representatives met to discuss the best course to take. The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF also participated and presented recommendations on vaccinations for countries accepting asylum seekers.

They prioritised the need to be vigilant against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), as well as polio.

According to the WHO, 700,000 refugees and immigrants have entered Europe so far this year, with nearly 2 million, mostly Syrians, seeking refuge in Turkey.

UNHCR figures claim that there are now more than 60 million refugees and asylum seekers worldwide, who have been displaced by conflict.

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The UN agency has made repeat calls in recent weeks for European authorities to show solidarity and responsibility in order to manage the current refugee crisis.

Basic health care

Many need medical assistance to treat problems such as hypothermia, burns, heart complaints, complications associated with childbirth, diabetes and hypertension.

“Health systems in the European Region, including those of countries that receive refugees and migrants, are well equipped to diagnose and treat common infectious and non-communicable diseases,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, the WHO’s regional director in Europe.

However, she also added that, “We, as a region, must seek to ensure that all countries are adequately prepared and organized to withstand the added pressures of supporting a mass influx of people, while at the same time protecting the health of their resident populations.”

The aim of the Rome meeting is to agree on a common approach and joint action, as large-scale migration places immense pressure on the health systems of host countries, testing both their capacity and preparedness.

Low risk of communicable diseases

The risk that thousands of immigrants and refugees who have arrived in Europe this year have brought contagious diseases, including Ebola or the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), is “extremely low”, according to the WHO.

>>Read: Ebola’s last stand: Epidemic in West Africa nearing conclusion

The Geneva-based organisation has been doing its best to get ahead of populist scaremongers, who claim that the refugees are a significant health risk to the continent.

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