Refugee health - New arrivals

Last year the Australian Government announced that a total of 12,000 additional humanitarian programme places would be made available for those who have been displaced by conflicts in Iraq and Syria. As these refugees start arriving in Australia it is timely to reflect on the important role general practice plays in refugee health. This includes the provision of on-arrival health assessments, referral to and from specialised refugee health services and the provision of ongoing primary health care.

In readiness for Syrian and other refugee arrivals, we held a refugee health event on 26 May 2016 for GPs, AHPs and other health professionals who work with refugee groups. Presentations from NSW Refugee Health Service, STARTTS (NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors) and HealthPathways Sydney, along with a case study with support from Settlement Services International (SSI), were important for highlighting the commonly seen physical and mental health issues in general practice, referral pathways and resources available to support refugee patients. This event was supported by CESPHN, SLHD, SESLHD, NSW Refugee Health Service and SSI.

The Refugee Health Nurse Program (delivered by Refugee Health Service in metropolitan Sydney) is providing initial health screening to newly arrived refugees. Some observations on recent arrivals are:

  • The Iraqi cohort are highly traumatised, with lots of psychological and sleep related problems.
  • There seems to be lot of helicobacter, most are symptomatic with positive pathology, easily treated if diagnosed - dangerous if untreated.
  • There are also many people presenting with chronic pain.
  • Most are arriving without their medication (apparently told overseas not to bring it with them)
  • There have been variable levels of immunisation.
  • There are a number of children and adults with disabilities arriving.
  • Oral health problems are major.

As part of our committment to improving primary health care for our community, we are trying to build a listing of GPs in our region who treat refugees or are interested in doing so. We will work with GPs to provide additional support and information and facilitate linkages with settlement services.