Health challenges of refugees and lessons to be learned

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Sadia Khalid, early-stage researcher (ESRs), medical writer and specialist at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), Estonia. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Over the last year, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing war and persecution have travelled from the Ukraine to Europe. The health crisis faced by Ukrainian refugees provides several lessons that we can learn from. Some of these lessons include:The health crisis faced by Ukrainian refugees highlights the importance of having access to adequate healthcare.The importance of access to healthcare: Challenging journeys and inadequate living conditions are causing myriad health problems and access to basic healthcare is extremely limited for those on the move. At every given stage of the journey, people were suffering, including after they settled in Europe. In many cases, the limited access to healthcare is due to financial constraints, language barriers, and lack of documentation. Non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease poor management during resettlement means that some refugees are not getting the treatment they need, which in the long term can have a significant adverse impact on their health. This can lead to health issues going untreated and can exacerbate existing health conditionsInfectious diseases not immediate treatment and risk of transfer during their arduous journey means more sickness and mortality; adults aged 50–69 years face the highest burden from bloodstream infections, whereas children under the age of 5 years are most burdened by respiratory infections. Poor living conditions and limited access to healthcare in host countries can exacerbate the spread of these diseases. Reproductive health: Women and girls among the refugee population face specific challenges related to reproductive health, including lack of access to contraception, safe abortion, and maternal healthcare. Additionally, gender-based violence is a significant concern in refugee populations. Pregnant women are frequently unable to access antenatal care and the vaccination rate for refugee children is worrying low.The impact of mental health: Traumatic experiences these refugees suffered in their home country makes them highly susceptible to developing psychological problems; an issue compounded by poverty, their displacement and being victims of violence. The trauma of fleeing one’s home and living in unfamiliar and often unsafe conditions can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. These challenges can be exacerbated by the stress of the migration process and the uncertainty of their situation. The lack of mental health services and culturally competent care in host countries can also contribute to these challenges. The crisis faced by Ukrainian refugees has had a significant impact on mental health. It is important for healthcare providers to be aware of these issues and to provide mental health support to refugees. The importance of community support: The crisis faced by Ukrainian refugees has highlighted the importance of community support. Many refugees have relied on the support of their fellow refugees and community organizations for food, shelter, and medical care. This support has been crucial in helping refugees to survive and to rebuild their lives.Public Health Preparedness: The migration of large numbers of refugees can also pose a challenge for public health systems in host countries. Health officials need to be prepared to provide vaccinations, address communicable disease outbreaks, and provide basic healthcare services to large numbers of people with diverse health needs.The impact of political instability: Conflicts are inevitable, and so are refugees. The crisis faced by Ukrainian refugees is a reminder of the impact of political instability on people’s lives. The conflict in Ukraine has forced millions of people to flee their homes and has created a humanitarian crisis. It is important for the international community to work towards resolving conflicts and creating stable political environments to prevent similar crises from occurring in the future.

Overall, the refugee crisis in Europe has highlighted the need for greater attention to the health rights of refugees and the importance of providing culturally competent and comprehensive healthcare services to this vulnerable population. The health crisis faced by Ukrainian refugees teaches us the importance of access to healthcare, the impact of mental health, the importance of community support, and the impact of political instability. These lessons can help us to better understand the challenges faced by refugees and to work towards creating a more just and equitable world.

About the author

Sadia Khalid, early-stage researcher (ESRs), medical writer and specialist at Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), Estonia. She has been working on her PhD research project  “The role of Helicobacter pylori intestinal microbiota in the development of liver diseases. under supervision of Dr. Pirjo Spuul at Faculty of Science, Institute of Chemistry and Biotechnology.,TalTech. Her current research interests include Molecular Medicine, cell biology, infectious diseases, bacteriology, hepatology, and gastroenterology.

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