Health

CMAJ offers doctors a how-to on Syrian refugees' health needs

Syrian refugee families who have just arrived in Canada need to be linked to the primary health-care system, according to a new article that takes doctors through what they should consider.

Access to safe housing, employment and health care may have strong protective health effects

Syrian refugees will have encountered the trauma of war, repeat displacements, refugee camp life and poverty. (Reuters)

Syrian refugee families who have just arrived in Canada need to be linked to the primary health-care system,  according to a new article that takes doctors through what they should consider.

Tuesday's online issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal includes an article entitled "Caring for a newly arrived Syrian refugee family."

As Canada prepares for the arrival of an estimated 25,000 newcomers in the next year, the article describes what steps health-care professionals should focus on first.   

Refugees will have encountered the trauma of war, repeat displacements, refugee camp life and poverty, said author Dr. Kevin Pottie, a family physician at the Bruyère Research Institute and the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Evidence suggests that access to safe housing, employment and health care may have strong protective health effects, he said.

For refugees who aren't showing symptoms, the recommendations include:

  • Not screening routinely for trauma. But doctors should be alert for anxiety, sleeplessness, depression and other mood disorders that could be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Vaccinate children and adults without valid records for measles, mumps, rubella and other illnesses, depending on age.
  • Screen all children and adults for chronic Hepatitis B and vaccinating those who are at risk.
  • Not screen for tuberculosis as incidence is low in the Middle East.
  • Consider screening for Hepatitis C, testing and vaccination for varicella (chicken pox) in people who may be susceptible.
  • Test for the intestinal parasite Strongyloides.

The article will be published in an upcoming print edition of CMAJ.

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