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21 Apr 2016

New recommendations aim to provide equitable healthcare for refugees

Australia’s healthcare professionals will be better equipped to provide a thorough post-arrival health assessment for people from refugee-like backgrounds following today’s launch of a comprehensive set of recommendations at the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) Annual Scientific Meeting in Launceston.

Funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services and ASID, and coordinated by Dr Nadia Chaves, a Refugee Health Fellow from the Royal Melbourne Hospital at the Doherty Institute, over 40 health professionals from across Australia contributed to the recommendations written on behalf of ASID and Refugee Health Network of Australia (RHeaNA).

The publication, Recommendations for a Comprehensive Post-Arrival Health Assessment for People from Refugee-like Backgrounds, has been updated and expanded from the 2009 ASID guidelines, Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of Infections in Recently Arrived Refugees, to include, in addition to infectious conditions, advice on a number of non-infectious conditions such as anaemia, women’s health and mental health and increased advice for health conditions in children.

In addition, while the 2009 edition was developed in the context of refugees arriving from sub-Saharan Africa, the new recommendations consider the different countries of origin of people seeking refuge in Australia and acknowledge that people with refugee-like experiences may arrive as asylum seekers or on non-refugee visas.

Key recommendations include a tailored approach to screening with a combination of universal, risk-based and country-based screening investigations; reducing the number of tests; and providing an evidence base to health screening. Catch-up immunisations are also a focus in line with the Australian immunisation schedule.

Today, as a consequence of ongoing global conflict, there are over 59 million displaced people and 19.5 million refugees worldwide[1]. Australia resettles 13,750 people annually through its Humanitarian Program. An additional 12,000 people escaping the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are also being processed through this Program[2].

Dr Chaves said the publication of the recommendations was timely given more health professionals will likely be providing post arrival health assessments in the coming months.

“A comprehensive health assessment is an opportunity to provide best practice healthcare for people who, as a consequence of their refugee experience, are at increased risk of complex physical and mental health conditions,” she said.

“The recommendations are intended to help support and build capacity amongst healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care.”

Associate Professor Josh Davis, ASID Vice President, said while most humanitarian entrants to Australia had pre-departure health checks, there were no standard post arrival health checks provided by the Australian government for refugees.

“These guidelines seek to ensure important health conditions are diagnosed and treated early after arrival, regardless of where the person is settling in Australia,” he said.

“We hope that by revising and publishing this document we can raise awareness of equitable healthcare for new arrivals, and support a healthy start to their life in Australia.”

For a copy of the recommendations visit asid.net.au.

[1] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - Global Trends Report: World at War, June 2015

[2] Fact Sheet – Australia’s Refugee Humanitarian Programme – border.gov.au

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