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RESEARCH: Studies report increasing healthcare challenges among refugees

Oct. 25, 2022
RESEARCH: Studies report increasing healthcare challenges among refugees
A snip from the journal which published on of the studies on refugees' healthcare. GRAPHIC | IFAKARA/KMC.

Researchers have reported increasing healthcare challenges facing the refugee population in Tanzania. The challenges range from accessibility to health services, untreated surgical conditions, long waiting periods to receive healthcare, and high referral rates.

According to the researchers from Ifakara Health Institute and partner institutions, the confirmation was obtained from three latest studies conducted in sub-Saharan Africa that focused on refugees’ health.

Since there are few studies on this issue, the researchers have called for more research focusing on the health of refugees. The studies investigated refugees’ health and the provision of healthcare services at the Nyarugusu refugee camp in western Tanzania.

“Despite significant advances in the understanding of the global burden of surgical disease, limited research focuses on access to health and surgical services among refugees, especially in east Africa,” they say.

“Our results provide a benchmark upon which other studies in conflict or post-conflict zones with refugee or forced migrant populations may be compared… Future research should attempt to build prospective referral registries that allow for better tracking of patients and examination of waiting times.”

Dr. Omar Juma, a researcher at Ifakara Health Institute contributed to the series of studies. Other researchers include; Zachary Obinna Enumah, Joseph V Sakran, Kent Stevens, and Daniel Rhee from John Hopkins Global Surgery Initiative (JHGSI), USA; Mohamed Yunus Rafiq from New York University Shanghai, China; and Frank Manyama and Hilary Ngude from Tanzania Red Cross Society, Tanzania.

Access to health, surgical services

In one of the studies, the researchers wanted to investigate access to health and surgical services among refugees at the Nyarugusu refugee camp which is located in western Tanzania’s Kigoma region.
The refugee camp, which is widely known as one of the largest refugee camps of the 21st century, has more than 132,000 refugees – mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi – who settled there after escaping civil war and riots in their respective countries.

The study describes patterns of access to transportation to health services among 3,560 Congolese and Burundian refugees at the Nyarugusu refugee camp. In their findings, the researchers reveal that while a majority of refugees were reportedly generally healthy (79.3%), most of them also reported financial difficulty when seeking health care.

Additionally, they had to wait for long periods, usually between 3 and 12 hours, before being seen at the health center which forced around 3% of the refugees to leave the refugee camp to seek health care elsewhere in order to avoid the long wait times.

“Our study does suggest that some independent health care seeking did occur outside of the camp-based services. Future research may focus more specifically on barriers to timely servicing of patients and patterns of self-referral” the researchers proposed in their study published in the Springer Link: The Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health on August 30, 2022. The journal is an international forum for the publication of peer-reviewed original research pertaining to immigrant health with contributors ranging from experts in diverse fields. Dr. Omar has contributed to several studies on the topic of immigrant health.

Read full publication here: >> https://doi.org/10.1007/S10903-022-01387-9

Prevalence of surgical problems among children

In another study, the researchers sought to assess the prevalence of pediatric surgical problems among refugee children. Also conducted at the Nyarugusu refugee camp, the study findings showed a high untreated burden of surgical problems among refugee children and adolescents. Over 30% reported a history or presence of a surgical problem, and of that 30%, over half (54%) reported the problem was ongoing.

The researchers pointed out the reasons behind the high burden of untreated surgical conditions saying, “Part of this persistent need may be related to a lack of sufficient resources, including human resources, in addressing the surgical burden of disease, especially in conflict or post-conflict zones.” The findings of this study were published in the BMC (BMC Pediatric) journal on September 1, 2022.

Read full publication here: >> https://doi.org/10.1186/S12887-022-03576-9

Pattern of refferal services

In yet another study, the researchers aimed to describe patterns of referral services among refugees living in the Nyarugusu refugee camp. The findings revealed a 3.9% referral rate of patients with surgical problems which were also not completed timely.

The referral rate according to the researchers “is slightly higher than other referral rates documented in similar, but hospital-based contexts, including in Tanzania.” The study findings are published in the BMJ journal on October 3, 2022.

Read full publication here: >> https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/12/10/e058778.long