Understanding Refugees’ Health

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According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 65.6 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide. Several factors have a major influence on asylum seekers’ health; so, their health profile is markedly different from that of the population in the country of asylum. The aim of this study is to review the major issues physicians need to be aware of when treating asylum seekers, with a special focus on the neurological problems of asylum seekers and refugees. The major impact factors on refugees’ health are linked to experiences and exposure (1) in the country of origin, (2) in refugee camps and en route to Europe, and (3) in the process of immigration into the host country and living in European asylum centers. Refugees’ health is also affected by psychological problems and by infectious diseases. Additionally, chronic diseases resulting in polymorbidity, cancer, and neurological diseases are easy to overlook and demand special attention. Neurological injuries/diseases may be traumatic (e.g., spinal cord injuries), posttraumatic (e.g., chronic pain syndromes), the result of cerebral infections, or the consequences of starvation (e.g., epilepsy, ataxia, and paraesthesia). The main challenges for physicians are lack of awareness of the asylum seekers’ specific health care problems, language and intercultural communication problems, as well as access and integration of asylum seekers into the health care system. The health issues of asylum seekers are manifold and challenging to physicians. Awareness of these conditions is mandatory to ensure good clinical practice for this patient population, which has a huge burden in chronic, infectious, mental, and neurological diseases.

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