Migrants pose no disease risk to settled population, report highlights

Thousands of refugees eligible remain in squalid camps in Greece and Italy. File

Thousands of refugees eligible remain in squalid camps in Greece and Italy. File

The World Health Organization (WHO) this week has absolved the migrants of spreading disease in its first report that deals with this issue.

"As migrants and refugees become more vulnerable than the host population to the risk of developing both noncommunicable and communicable diseases, it is necessary that they receive timely access to quality health services, as everyone else", said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, the organization's regional director for Europe. As migrants and refugees are likely to change their lifestyle to engage in less physical activity and consume less healthy food, they are also more prone to risk factors for chronic diseases. "This applies both for tuberculosis, but also HIV/AIDS".

"Infections in those migrating have minimal public health implications for most host populations in the WHO European Region", the report's authors wrote. "However, the proportion of refugees and migrants among a country's TB cases varies from more than 90% to less than 1%, reflecting the prevalence in the host country".

"For example, the reported prevalence of depression in the refugee and migrant population varied from 5% to 44%, compared with a prevalence of 8-12% in the general population". With rise of migration across the world, this report provides a cross sectional picture, say experts. However, cancer in refugees and migrants is more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage, which can lead to considerably worse health outcomes than those of the host population.

10 Things to Know About the Health of Refugees and Migrants. This new report from the World Health Organization also adds that unaccompanied minors, teenagers, young men and women are most commonly at risk of "deceptive recruitment and modern slavery".

Recent WHO estimates suggest that global childhood primary immunization rates are around 86 percent and that almost 20 million infants have missed basic vaccinations.

Diabetes - The WHO says that there is a "higher incidence, prevalence and mortality rate", of diabetes among migrants especially among women. And even with conditions they are no more likely to contract than permanent residents - such as cancer - migrants are more likely to die because they are often diagnosed later, the report concluded. Unaccompanied minors are more at risk says the report.

Children make up 25 percent of migrants and are the group at greatest risk of vaccine-preventable diseases as they may not have received all recommended vaccinations. That finding, researchers said, is particularly applicable to unaccompanied minors who the study found suffer from higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Male migrants experience significantly more work-related injuries than non-migrant workers.

The report finds refugees and migrants seem to have fewer noncommunicable diseases on arrival than their host populations; but, it notes the longer they stay in the countries in conditions of poverty, their risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and cancer increases.

The report adds that the major problem here is lack of access to health care.

"I don't think that in most of the countries the illegal migrants have access to the health system services", Jakab said. "So that is an area where we have to do substantial additional work and conviction of the countries, because, the best way to protect their own population and the refugees is to give them access".

Providing rights-based healthcare systems that are sensitive to the needs of migrants and refugees is included in the 2030 Agenda, which covers 17 Sustainable Development Goals, known as the 'SDGs' and targets including universal health coverage.

In 15 European countries, including Austria, Turkey, and Britain, asylum seekers have access to the same care as the local population, whereas in Germany and Hungary they are only entitled to emergency care. This includes UK, Italy, Greece and Uzbekistan.

Among other myths exposed as false by the report was the belief that more vulnerable people were arriving in Europe than was the case.

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