Ensuring Refugee Health and Wellbeing

Buffalo String Works performance at the Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit.

Buffalo String Works performance at the Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit

Providing food, water, and shelter is critical to the welfare of the world’s 65 million forcibly displaced people; so too is health care. Medical translation services address language barriers, but do not support a culturally engaged continuum of care. To ensure refugee wellbeing, we join the best practices of clinicians with the hands-on work of community organizations, fostering an integration of both knowledge and services.

What is Refugee Health and Wellbeing?

Refugees have escaped war, persecution, or natural disasters and have often witnessed or experienced physical and/or psychological trauma or torture. Some arrive with English skills learned at schools from their home or host countries but some arrive lacking the language skills needed to thrive. 

Refugee health translates to overall wellbeing . I believe that attending to refugee health requires “it takes a village…” approach, which encourages and fosters collaboration across all civic sectors, including healthcare clinics, resettlement agencies, social services, schools, and local government and business communities.

How does Refugee Health Impact Global Health Equity?

During migration, refugees' health and wellness is vulnerable due to lack of consistent, continuous medical care – including gaps in maternal child care, mental health and preventive care. 

Once resettled, refugee populations are eligible for medical care, required vaccines and evidenced based preventive and primary care. However, there are challenges in the delivery and receipt of care due to language barriers, cultural perceptions on the part of both refugees and providers of care, health literacy issues, and differences in the understanding and treatment of mental health disorders. Global health is affected adversely when populations do not receive optimum medical care. A high standard of medical care helps to ensure prevention of disease, control of chronic illness and health of mothers and children – which safeguards the health of all.

Health centric disciplines are not enough to meet the challenges presented by these newly arriving populations, nor to alleviate the disparities they face – such as isolation, limited English proficiency, differences in patients’ attitudes and health literacy levels, and a lack of cultural awareness on the part of providers.

In caring for individuals and families from all over the world, I have tried to comprehend the trauma and loss they have withstood; and have been captivated by their resilience and ability to transform their lives.

Our Working Solutions

From 2003 to 2014, Erie County's four resettlement agencies resettled 9,723 refugees from Iraq, Somalia, Burma, Bhutan, and now Syria. Refugees receive resettlement support for three months time but, post-resettlement, face barriers to good health and well-being due to limited english proficiency coupled with a scarcity of interpreters and translators, mental health issues related to trauma and torture, lack of transportation, and a derth of culturally-engaged health professionals, pharmacists, and emergency care providers.
Today, continued conflict in South Sudan has forced over 1,291,294 people to seek refuge in neighboring countries, like Uganda, making Uganda the largest refugee settlement in the world.  Despite the Democratic Republic of Congo's slow recovery from a nearly decade long war, many areas are still plagued by violence and displacement.