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This Is More Than a Crisis of Borders - It Is a Crisis of Health

22/04/2016 16:54

We've all seen the news footage, read the reports and seen the photos. We are in the midst of a migrant crisis and it is impossible to ignore the stark conditions thousands of people are facing in desperate attempts to find refuge and safety in a foreign land. What we are witnessing is not just a crisis of borders; it is a crisis of health.

For those of us working in health care, caring for those in need transcends issues of nationality and practicality: the migrant crisis is far from the first time nurses have needed to respond to a global health issue. During conflict, natural disasters and global epidemics - nurses are there. And what the photos and the footage can't possibly demonstrate is the unimaginable acts of violence and torture, the terrible living conditions, poverty and total collapse of health care infrastructure that so many are fleeing from.

Each and every migrant is at heightened risk of mental and physical health problems, and these needs must be responded to. Migrant and refugee health is an important topic crossing a wide range of issues. From unaccompanied children struggling with psychological trauma to victims of Female Genital Mutilation and torture, migrants often have complex health and social needs.

The mass global instability and migration we are experiencing has had a ripple effect across the world and elevated demand for health care throughout Europe. There are few nurses working in any environment that won't have felt the impact - directly or indirectly.

It is critical we rise to the challenge before it escalates out of control. In times of crisis, helping people to access healthcare is even more vital - prevention is far more economical than cure. Timely diagnosis and treatment for this tiny subset of our population will save the NHS money in the long term.

While there are some systems and NGOs in place, migrants face multiple barriers to healthcare access. Aside from not understanding the system, many get lost in the bureaucracy of attempting to obtain any form of rights to healthcare or mistakenly fear that they will be arrested if they try.

At a recent RCN Refugee Health workshop, a range of experts illustrated how nurses can improve our response to the health problems migrants and refugees are facing.

A key example came from Dr Barbara Howard-Hunt from Birmingham City University, who has worked with Somali refugee women in Birmingham to understand the impact of forced migration. Her research found that it is easy for people to assume that the needs and expectations of refugees are all the same and that this can be problematic.

Rather than supporting integration into British society, overarching social policies may, in some instances, inadvertently reinforce the barriers that prevent Somali refugee women from adapting to their new environment and rebuilding their lives. At best, this 'one-size-fits-all' approach, is a compromise.

The result is that many Somali women remain trapped in a downward spiral of loss and trauma unable to take up the services available to them. Nurses, as the advocates of many of these women, must recognise that although there are similarities between the women, there are also differences and they have the ability to individualise and facilitate their care.

This work is just one example of how modern health and social care services need to practice within a cultural frame in order to help migrants and refugees adapt to their new environment and rebuild their lives.

With nursing staff crossing boundaries between hospital and the community, home and abroad, and practical and emotional needs, there is an opportunity to make a real difference.

Everyone has the right to be treated regardless of their social status, nationality or ethnic origin and nurses will continue to fly the flag for true universality in healthcare.

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