Refugee Health and Well-being in Buffalo

Courtesy of Jewish Family Services of Buffalo and Erie County.

Courtesy of Jewish Family Services of Buffalo and Erie County

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.

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

Identifying Needs Testing Options Scaling Up
  • Oral Histories
    Buffalo, NY has a century long history of welcoming immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. For many years now, refugees and immigrants have contributed to the prosperity and diversity of WNY. However, numerous cultural, religious, educational, economic, language, social, and political barriers affect their health and wellbeing. Nationalistic ideologies are breeding fear and persecution of the ‘other’ leading to overt and subtle degrees of discrimination. Some fear what they do not know.
  • Understanding the Global within the Local: Educational Policy and Programmatic Supports for Displaced Youth
    Largescale displacement, both within and across international borders, has occurred on a scale not witnessed since the Second World War.  
  • Reproductive health decision‐making among US‐dwelling Somali Bantu refugee women: A qualitative study
    Dr. Kafuli Agbemenu, assistant professor of nursing, conducts innovative community-based research to improve the reproductive health of vulnerable and marginalized populations of women living in the U.S. Her most recent study, Reproductive health decision-making among US-dwelling Somali Bantu refugee women: A qualitative study, published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, aimed to explore Somali Bantu refugee women's reproductive health decision-making, as influenced by their resettlement in the U.S. The study revealed that children are, for Somali Bantu Women, considered as wealth. If health care providers are equipped with a more culturally nuanced understanding of factors that influence reproductive health decision-making, they can provide person-centered care that meets their patients needs and is appropriate.
  • Dealing with Disparities in Food Acquisition Among Refugees (DDFAR)
    At the end of 2014, 19.5 million people were reported to be refugees in the world, and the number has continued to rise.  In 2014, 4,085 refugees were resettled in New York State, with Erie County receiving the highest number. Resettlement is meant to be a durable, long-term habitation solution so refugees can lead full, healthy lives. However, refugees are often resettled in neighborhoods that expose populations to a variety of health risks. 
  • Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit
    Co-sponsored by the University at Buffalo’s Community for Global Health Equity and School of Public Health and Health Professions’ Office of Global Health Initiatives, the annual Refugee Health Summit unites clinicians, resettlement representatives, community health workers, researchers, students, municipal leaders, and refugees. The 5 Annual WNY Refugee Health Summit will highlight the innovative university-community partnerships that have resulted in research, programming, and solutions to improve health and wellbeing for refugees.
  • Global Innovation Challenge: 2017
    The world is amidst the largest humanitarian refugee crisis since WWII. This affects not only refugee populations and the nations that border conflict areas but cities and countries around the world. For example, approximately 1,500 refugees arrive in Buffalo each year – making it one of the top resettlement sites in the U.S.

Our Team