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Study finds refugees less likely to report health conditions

Key Points
  • A first-of-its kind report has looked at patterns of health outcomes and service use by refugees and humanitarian entrants.
  • Refugees were 60 per cent less likely to report asthma and cancer than the rest of the Australian population.
  • Accidental drowning deaths are also higher among refugee and humanitarian entrants than the general population.
A new report has revealed significant disparities between the health of refugees and humanitarian migrants compared to the general population.
The first-of-its-kind report, carried out by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), analysed census data between 2000 and 2020 about health service use, medication dispensing, self-reported, long-term health conditions and causes of death.
Among the outcomes, it found refugees were 60 per cent less likely to report asthma and cancer than the rest of the Australian population, and 50 per cent less likely to report chronic lung conditions and .

The report found refugees were less likely to report asthma and chronic lung conditions than the general population in Australia. Source: Getty / Kadek Bonit Permadi

Higher risk of drowning deaths

Refugees were also more likely to die from drowning, the report found.
Vanessa D’Souza from the AIHW said the data showed more targeted water safety initiatives for these communities may be required.
“Accidental drowning deaths among refugee and humanitarian entrants were 2.4 times as high as the rest of the population,” she said.
“Migrants are at a higher risk of so there might be factors related to inadequate knowledge of water safety and aquatic environments, and the lack of swimming and water safety schools.”
D’Souza said the experiences of refugees prior to their arrival in Australia could have a significant impact on their health outcomes.
Executive Director of the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health, Adele Murdolo, said while prior experience was a significant factor, especially for refugees from countries whose healthcare systems were in crisis, Australia needed to do more to improve access to services and advice.

“The main issues are really also located within the health system in Australia.

A family waiting at the counter while a receptionist types on her computer.

Refugees are less likely to report certain conditions than the rest of the population of Australia. Source: Getty / Capuski/

“Our health system is really complex, and we don’t have very sophisticated programs that support people to navigate the health system, and it also takes a lot of time to develop trust,” Murdolo said.

“Trust generally in the community when there is racism does make people question their sense of belonging here in Australia. All of that translates across to a person’s trust in the health system or welfare system.”

Barriers to accessing services

The report found rates of antidepressant prescriptions and GP mental health management plans were far lower for humanitarian entrants, though higher for refugee women than men.
Murdolo says women from refugee backgrounds were uniquely disadvantaged.
“[A] refugee mum, she’s got a couple of kids, it’s very difficult for her to access the health system when she’s not able to access childcare for those children. It’s still difficult in Australia to get an interpreter, and we have heard of instances of consultations having to be delayed,” she said.

“A person who’s booked her GP, the interpreter wasn’t available to attend, she booked that same consultation again, and they weren’t able to get an interpreter at that time. So she had to actually book three times with her GP before she could get an interpreter to attend.”

Dr Ben Harris-Roxas, who is a senior lecturer at the University of the New South Wales, wants to see more effective communication between healthcare providers and patients.
He said while strong public health messaging existed around early recognition of cancer and mental health conditions, state and federal governments could do more to make sure health advice reaches all Australians.
“There is a real gap in terms of the messages reaching, but then also being tailored to the needs of refugees, humanitarian entrants and other new migrants, and that really plays out most starkly in relation to this sort of preventive care arena,” Harris-Roxas said.
He said initiatives such as an appointment reminder card translation tool that had been introduced in NSW were examples of what could improve patient understanding and experience.

“When people go to the GP or an outpatient clinic, and they need to be told when their next appointment is, there’s this really cool but simple tool that translates what the service is, when your next appointment is and how to access it,” Harris-Roxas said.

More engaged with GPs

Not all of the report’s findings were negative. It also found that refugees were much more likely to report diabetes, kidney disease, stroke and dementia than the general population.
It also found high levels of engagement with GPs, with around nine in 10 refugees seeing a GP in 2021, with almost all of the sessions bulk billed.
Harris-Roxas said in the face of a shortage of GPs who , helping refugees continue to access them was critical to improving their health outcomes.

“GPs are really important because they often help professionals who do consultations in languages other than English as well,” he said.

Challenges navigating the healthcare system

Multicultural health advocates said the complex picture showed the urgent need to address the difficulties refugees face navigating the healthcare system.
D’Souza said there may be cultural considerations for the under-reporting, particularly relating to mental health.
She said there could be a reluctance or a stigma attached with talking about mental health conditions, and that accessing services might prove difficult for refugees and humanitarian entrants.

The compilation of the data within this report is the initial stage of the AIHW’s Refugee and humanitarian entrant health project.

https://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/it-takes-time-to-develop-trust-study-finds-refugees-less-likely-to-report-serious-health-conditions/5cs9yhazw Study finds refugees less likely to report health conditions

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