Refugees, migrant populations particularly vulnerable to antimicrobial resistance: WHO

Healthcare needs of these populations are heterogenous and depend heavily on host countries’ capacity

By Taran Deol
Published: Tuesday 20 September 2022

Refugees and migrant populations are particularly vulnerable to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) due to the poor access to healthcare in the backdrop of an increased probability of infections, according to a recent report by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The healthcare needs of these populations are heterogenous and depend heavily on host countries’ capacity, noted the fourth report of the WHO Global Evidence Review on Health and Migration — released 19 September, 2022.

More than 1.27 million people across the world die every year due to AMR, the report noted.

Also read: Lack of access, erratic use magnify antimicrobial infections in Africa

“Maintaining the ability to treat serious infections requires a balance between equitable access to and appropriate use of existing and new antimicrobial medicines for all,” the report underlined.

While AMR is ultimately inevitable, prolonged drug use will make the body resistant to it. The progression has been accelerated by years of misuse and overuse. But this is not the only indicator on the rise.

International refugees and migrant populations have seen an increase throughout this century, accounting for 281 million, or about 3.5 per cent of the global population, in 2020.

“The conditions under which refugees and migrants leave their countries of origin and transit to their destination countries may lead to increased infections, as well as to disruptions and barriers to healthcare access,” the report noted.

The evidence is assessed based on the literature available on four key indicators — access, appropriate use, barriers to access and use and interventions to improve access and use. However, data for the first two remain scarce, coming in largely from high-income countries and practically non-existent for low and middle-income countries.

Long waiting times to consult a doctor, limited capacity of health services, high healthcare costs, inappropriate prescription of antibiotics and lack of translated materials or interpretation services are the key barriers to accessing and using antibiotics across the world, the analysis revealed. This has triggered many to resort to unsafe means to meet their healthcare needs.

“Some studies show that refugees and migrants often resort to informal markets and self-medication to overcome health system barriers in the host country,” Dr Santino Severoni, director of the WHO Health and Migration Programme, said in a press release.

Access to safe, effective, affordable, high-quality antibiotics for all, including refugees and migrants, is key to promoting the health of these populations, he added.

The report underlined policy considerations based on — global governance, global data collection, overcoming national-level barriers to seeking formal care, utilising formal care and receiving adequate and quality care.

“We need to strengthen our evidence on the burden and impact of AMR in refugee and migrant populations and then help refine national regulations and policies as well as global guidelines,” Catharina Van Weezenbeek, director of the WHO Surveillance, Prevention and Control of AMR, said in the press release.

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