The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that there are currently 31.7 million uprooted or stateless people worldwide. Refugees are defined by the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration as: “any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality…and who is unable or unwilling to return to…that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Refugee status may be due to conflict situations, natural disasters, or other factors, but regardless of the cause, refugees and internally displaced persons face a number of health concerns.
In areas ravaged by war, poor quality food and water and nearly non-existent sewage treatment are major concerns. A 2007 World Health Organization (WHO) report indicated that nearly two million Iraqis are internally displaced persons and an additional two million have left the nation and are living as refugees in Syria and Jordan. Due to growing public health concerns in Iraq and the deterioration of the healthcare system, these numbers are expected to continue to increase. Seventy percent of Iraqis in-country do not have regular access to clean water, and 80 percent lack sewage facilities that do not contaminate sources of drinking water. As a result, in 2007 diarrhea and respiratory infections accounted for approximately two-thirds of the deaths of children age five and under.
The UNHCR reports that the majority of deaths of children under five living in refugee situations in developing countries are: malaria, malnutrition, measles, diarrhea, and respiratory tract infections. Priority is often given to controlling communicable diseases and epidemics, however public health surveillance is also important to ensure these potentially non-lethal conditions are controlled. Immunization, HIV/AIDS programs, reproductive health services, chronic disease management, mental health support are critical to ensuring that conflict-effected and refugee populations are able to survive.
Through online forums like those provided on iCons in Medicine, it may be possible to address and track public health concerns and outbreaks. By presenting these items to the group of volunteer medical experts participating in the iCons in Medicine program, perhaps we may begin to uncover ways of lessening the severity of these situations, or even halting them.
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United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – The U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration – WHO Report on Public Health in Iraq