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Migrants, refugees in Europe vulnerable to diseases: WHO

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Migrants who are waiting to cross into Macedonia, stand next to the border fence in a makeshift camp, near the Greek village of Idomeni. Reuters

GENEVA (Xinhua) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that migrants and refugees may be susceptible to non-communicable and communicable, as well as chronic diseases due to poverty or change of lifestyle to less physical activity and healthy food.

In its first report on health of refugees and migrants in the WHO European Region, the UN health agency summarises the latest avai-lable evidence on their health from a review of more than 13,000 documents.

Though refugees and migrants appear to be less affected than their host populations by many non-communicable diseases on arrival, if they are in conditions of poverty, the duration of their stay in host countries increases their risk for cardiovascular diseases, stroke or cancer.

Migrants and refugees are also likely to change their lifestyle to engage in less physical activity and consume less healthy food, which may lead to high risks for chronic diseases, the report warns.

Meanwhile, the displacement processes itself can make refugees and migrants more vulnerable to infectious diseases.

For instance, the proportion of refugees and migrants among a host country’s tuberculosis (TB) cases varies broadly depending on the TB prevalence in the host population; and that a significant proportion of migrants and refugees who are HIV positive acquired the infection after they arrived in Europe.

In general, refugees and migrants have a higher incidence, prevalence and mortality rate for diabetes than the host population, with higher rates in women.

The WHO hence suggests a list of actions for host countries to take, such as providing quality and affordable health coverage as well as social protection for all refugees and migrants regardless of their legal status.

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