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Refugees, A Global Health Crisis

According to the UN Refugee Agency we are now witnessing the highest levels of displacement of people on record. An unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. In a world where nearly 1 person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution, little is being discussed about the quality of life of refugees and the health issues that develop due to the harsh conditions they endure.

Migrants and refugees are likely to be healthy in general but they can be at risk of falling sick in transition or while staying in new countries, due to poor living conditions such as camps with poor shelter and sanitation or changes in their lifestyle such as inadequate food and water, and increased stress.

Altogether, more than two thirds (67 per cent) of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries:

  • Syrian Arab Republic (6.7 million)

  • Afghanistan (2.7 million)

  • South Sudan (2.3 million)

  • Myanmar (1.1 million)

  • Somalia (0.9 million)

Not surprisingly, many of these countries have some of the worst overall health indices and conditions in the world.

Early this year the World Health Organization (WHO) released its Report on the health of refugees and migrants, which stressed the importance of providing quality healthcare to refugees and migrants because the right to health is a basic human right; because refugees and migrants contribute actively to the development of both their host society and their native countries; and because providing timely access to quality health services to refugees and migrants is the best way to save lives and cut care costs, as well as protect the health of the resident citizens.

MedShare has long been at the forefront of the supporting the global health efforts to ensure quality healthcare is provided to these marginalized communities. A great of example of this was our recent partnership with the Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS). SAMS is a global medical relief organization that is working on the front lines of crisis relief in Syria and beyond to save lives and alleviate suffering. SAMS proudly provides dignified medical care to every patient in need. In 2017, SAMS provided more than 3.5 million medical care services to vulnerable populations. They shared the following feedback to us:


“Thank you MedShare for the tremendous assistance and thank you Fran who was so helpful helping us find supplies.”


We also received feedback from one of our longtime supporters, Dr. Maria Arnasi, whom worked in one of the refugee camps with SAMS. Dr. Maria Ansari is a cardiologist in San Francisco, California and is affiliated with Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center.

She wrote:

“I worked at the Al Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan near the Syrian border. There are about 80,000 Syrian refugees there. It is the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world. Jordan has about 1.5 million refugees. There was bombing along the border just before I went but it was all clear when I started. I went as a cardiologist and saw mostly patients with chest pain, shortness of breath, and congenital heart disease. This is a very resilient group of people but they have been through so much trauma and there was definitely a high level of stress among many of the patients. They were very grateful. I was able to donate about 20 glucometers, several blood pressure cuffs, gauze, gloves, pregnancy tests, urine dipsticks, and antiseptic solutions that were much needed at the camp which relies on donations exclusively. I filled a whole suitcase from MedShare. I had no trouble at the airport. The camp is staffed by volunteers (Doctors without Borders and SAMS-the Syrian American Medical Society) and the UN and they were so grateful for these much needed supplies. Thank you again MedShare!” – Maria

We have also partnered with organizations like International Medical Corps, which is responding to the health needs of Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Columbia. They shared with us that more than three million people have fled Venezuela as a result of the ongoing humanitarian, political, and economic crisis. While the growing crisis has affected countries throughout the Latin America & Caribbean region, Colombia has experienced the greatest burden, receiving more than 50 percent of all Venezuelan refugees and migrants. More than 5,000 refugees, migrants and Colombian nationals seeking reintegration cross the border into Colombia daily. While Colombia has made significant efforts to respond to the needs of migrants and refugees, the mass influx is overwhelming humanitarian efforts and health and social services.

While refugees and migrants are often the subject of political postering and the rallying cry for incresed nationalism, let us not forget that these are people, like you and I, that deserve basic human rights and quality care. In 1984, then President Ronald Reagan said it best when he stated, “a hungry child knows no politics.” Healthcare for refugees should not be an option, but a fundamental right.

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