Australia Day reminds us we must do more for refugee and migrant health

Monday, January 25, 2016

Australia Day offers us a chance to reflect on the ways our healthcare system could do more to help migrants and new arrivals, Australian Health Review (AHR) Editor-in-Chief Professor Gary Day has said.

“There has been much media attention and social commentary of late regarding refugees, asylum seekers, Australia’s overall population ‘cap’, children in detention and migrant health,” Professor Day said in his editorial for the upcoming edition of AHR.

“This ongoing commentary often leads to vigorous and polarised debate about Australia’s commitment to migrants and refugees, and raises the question of whether Australia is particularly welcoming to refugees and migrants when it comes to health service provision.”

Professor Day said research showed migrants faced a number of barriers to good health in Australia, including social isolation, the challenges of assimilation, and lack of access to appropriate health services.

“Health literacy is an important aspect of positive health outcomes, and this is also true for migrant health,” Professor Day said.

“For example, limited health literacy and dietary changes have been noted in poorer oral health outcomes of migrants as well as a reduction in health-seeking behaviours.

One area in need of critical attention is access barriers to appropriate maternity and paediatric services experienced by some migrants. Language barriers and social isolation can lead to migrants suffering a lack of support during pregnancy and post-natally, with similar barriers to access for child health service provision.

While migrant families in Australia have longer-term health issues to contend with, refugees and asylum seekers face more immediate challenges,” Professor Day said.

“Refugees present with a range of clinical diagnoses including vitamin D deficiencies, hepatitis B carrier status, tuberculosis infections, schistosomiasis, and iron deficiency. To add to these clinical diagnoses refugees can present with a high rate of probable post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.

“There is a need for compassionate and targeted health policies to assist this large section of our society. The literature indicates that a wider range of appropriate mental health and other primary health services are needed to support these vulnerable groups, particularly women and children and those with mental illness.”

“If we are serious about our country being inclusive, more needs to be done to make Australia a country that is equitable and accessible to all, including the most vulnerable.”

Media enquiries: Alison Verhoeven Chief Executive, The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association 0403 282 501