All the while, the general population is shielded against these infections due to regular vaccination programs and herd immunity. This means that the refugee population can integrate and share in that herd immunity.
Yet, the researchers have reportedly raised concerns that the sheer number of Syrian refugees and migrants fleeing war torn countries has led to this usual process breaking down. Refugees are highly vulnerable due to exhaustion and hunger which will have worked to reduce their immunity.
When you throw in the squalid conditions of some of the camps in which these people are being detained as they move between countries, and a general lack of easily accessible health care on top of that, the potential for a serious infectious outbreak is high.
Furthermore, the conference heard from experts that because Europe hasn’t standardized its screening procedures for infections like MRSA and HIV, more cases could slip through, and in particular with HIV being notoriously difficult to catch unless infection occurred some months ago.
Add to that a significant pressure within Europe from the anti-vaccination groups, which have tried to erode policies on routine vaccinations, there is some cause for action to do whatever we can to drive down infections before they get out of hand. Indeed reports suggest that some infectious diseases may be on the rise in certain areas.
The conference heard how Turkey, where there has been an influx of millions of refugees, has seen a rise in the tick-borne hemorrhagic fever popularly known as the Crimean-Congo virus. Research has also mapped a potential uptick in MRSA infections in Norway, as well as things like salmonella infections in refugees in Germany, which of course has taken in more refugees than mostly any other European nation. Evidence was also presented on measles outbreaks among refugees in France.
It’s important to again stress that these infections do not appear to pose a danger to the wider population, namely because vaccination programs are holding those diseases at bay and, besides, infections usually require close contact. However, for hospitals, the chance of drug-resistant infections like MRSA is troubling.
More than that though, the pressing concern is how we help refugees and improve their medical care as they enter their new home countries, something that will help ensure the health of the entire country’s population.
To do that, money will need to be invested in creating better general conditions for housing people as they move between and into countries. The current camps are wholly inadequate and could exacerbate infectious disease outbreaks.
Furthermore, more uniform and evidence-based screening procedures will need to be used to ensure that refugees and migrants are getting the proper health checks they need.
Rather than allowing this to feed into anti-immigrant sentiment, the conference heard that action needs to be taken for refugees and not because they pose a wider health risk to their new countries of residence but because we owe these at-risk populations the care that every human being deserves.
Italian public health expert Alberto Matteelli is quoted as saying, “The fact itself that they are marginalized and they do not integrate into the community in Europe is the cause of their disease, and protects the European community from being infected. The risk is for themselves. They are a vulnerable population that needs to be protected.”
There is currently a serious lack of resources for Syrian refugees whether they remain in Jordan or are escaping to Europe. Care2 petitioners are calling on the United States Congress to aid the UN Food Program to ensure that Syrians are not allowed to starve while this international crisis is resolved. To find out more, please visit and sign the Care2 petition.