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04 December 2015

Health issues of child refugees arriving in US

The main health problems of refugee children from Asia and Africa when they arrive in the United States are outlined in a new study.

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The main health problems of refugee children from Asia and Africa when they arrive in the United States are outlined in a new study.

Based on screenings of more than 8,100 young refugees between 2006 and 2012, the top health concerns were hepatitis B, tuberculosis, parasitic worms, high blood lead levels and anaemia, the study found.

A healthy start in the US

The refugees, all younger than 19, were from Bhutan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq and Somalia.

Read: Hospitals allegedly turned away dying Indian children

The screenings were conducted shortly after they arrived in Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Washington state.

In general, these conditions were more common among children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Somalia, and lower among those from Iraq, researchers said.

Among refugees from Myanmar, those who came to the United States from Thailand had more diseases than those who came by way of Malaysia, the researchers found.

"Understanding the health profiles of children from different countries allows us to provide better counselling for parents, prioritise specific tests and ensure that we give children a healthy start here in the U.S.," study lead author Dr Katherine Yun, a paediatrician in the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's PolicyLab and Refugee Health Programme, said in a hospital news release.

Read: Why Africa is lagging behind in child vaccinations

The findings may have a number of implications.

Refugee populations change

"Our data suggest that the existing [U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] medical screening guidelines remain relevant and hold great value," Yun said.

"We also recommend that multistate public health collaborations monitor the health of newly arrived refugee children, along with resources available to them," she added.

Health officials should analyse these data in a timely manner, because refugee populations change significantly over time, she said.

Also, it may be more cost-effective to conduct health screenings of refugees before they leave their countries, Yun said.

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Read more: 

Genetic tests for asylum seekers  

Drought endangers 500,000 children 

Cholera vaccine could protect communities 

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