According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Global Trends Report, 70.8 million people were displaced at the end of 2018, and 25.9 million were refugees.
Australia resettles up to 20,000 people annually through its Humanitarian Program, and for adult refugees settled in Victoria, the Royal Melbourne Hospital offers a state-wide specialist Refugee Health Program, funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.
“We provide primary health care worker education and support, specialist clinical services and outreach to general practitioner clinics in regional areas such as Mildura and Shepparton,” says University of Melbourne Professor Beverley Biggs, Director of the Program and based at the Doherty Institute.
“We have a special outpatient clinic for refugees at the RMH, as well as a general practitioner (GP) clinic for those people who do not yet have their own GP. We also undertake translational research that aims to improve clinical outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers in Victoria.”
In 2016, the Program was responsible for coordinating the revision of Recommendations for a Comprehensive Post-Arrival Health Assessment for People from Refugee-like Backgrounds, a comprehensive set of recommendations for healthcare professionals working with refugees.
The team is currently investigating the cascade of care of refugees in rural and regional areas such as Mildura and Wodonga, to assess coverage of and the longer-term outcomes of the initial refugee health assessment and specialist referrals.
“We know that not all refugees receive a health assessment when they arrive, and that if they do and they receive a positive diagnosis, they don’t always get treated or referred to a specialist. Essentially, they can get lost in the system,” explains Professor Biggs.
“This is particularly the case for people diagnosed with hepatitis, so we’re trying to find out how we can improve attendance at specialist clinics, and communication with and follow-up by rural GPs.”
Dr Thomas Schulz, an Infectious Diseases Physician with the Victorian Infectious Diseases Service at the Doherty Institute, was the first to establish a regular telehealth clinic within the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
“This has been rolled out to many of our outpatient clinics at the Hospital. It’s state-of-the-art, and patients and GPs can gain access to specialist care in almost any speciality. It’s making a big impact,” Professor Biggs concludes.