Forced migration creates health problems, enhances spread of disease

twoForced migrations designed to contain disease generally don’t work as planned, as several studies and articles listed below show.

Refugee camps a “breeding ground” for illnesses: “United Nations aid agencies say hundreds of thousands of refugees are living in unacceptable conditions at camps. These people fled their homes because of violence in the Middle East and Africa. The U.N. agencies are blaming serious food and water problems at many refugee camps for the spread of life-threatening diseases. Officials say cholera, malaria and jaundice — combined with malnutrition — are threatening refugees who had hoped to be safe after they entered the camps.”

Refugees, Forced Displacement, and War notes that “women make up high proportions of refugee and internally displaced populations, and they suffer unique consequences of war and conflict because of gender-based violence, discrimination, and caretaking roles. Refugee women are especially vulnerable to infectious disease, as well as threats to their mental health and physical safety.”

Mental Health at Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center says that “Since 2000, over 600,000 refugees have been settled throughout the U.S., coming from countries as disparate as the former Soviet Union, Somalia, and Vietnam. The often traumatic reasons for leaving the host country as well as the potentially long and hazardous journey and process of resettlement increase the risk for refugees to suffer from a variety of mental health issues. While the screening for and treatment of infectious diseases has been studied and practiced for decades, the identification and treatment of mental health problems has lagged far behind. Complex and varied cultural contexts and languages, scattered refugee populations, and the relative lack of evidence-based interventions have made it difficult to carry out concerted and standardized efforts.”

Restricting population movement is a largely ineffective way of containing disease, yet governments sometimes resort to it where health crises emerge, according to Health crises and migration. In 1951, the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the International Sanitary Regulations – renamed International Health Regulations (IHR) in 1969 – with the objective of maximum prevention of the spread of infectious diseases with minimal disruption of travel and trade. The assumption was that “migration was unidirectional, and that diseases could be stopped at international borders. Individual and collective responses to health crises contribute to an orderly public health response that most times precludes the need for large-scale displacements. … Despite their adherence to the IHR, countries sometimes revert to isolation and restriction, threatening or deciding to close borders or to impose travel restrictions in an attempt to prevent infections from entering their territory. Here’s an audio version of the article.

Also: Tuberculosis in migrants moving from high-incidence to low-incidence countries: a population-based cohort study of 519 955 migrants screened before entry to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland


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