Settling into a new country is no easy feat, and it is even harder if you are a refugee from a war-torn country. Before arriving in Minnesota, many refugees have lived in extreme conditions, mostly in refugee camps around the world, as they awaited resettlement. By definition, a refugee, different from other immigrants, has fled their country of birth because of state persecution, often in time of war. Most refugees in Minnesota are from Somalia, Laos, Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, Iraq, Liberia, Burma , and the countries of the Former Soviet Union.
The Daily Planet recently spoke with Sara Chute, a refugee health consultant, on the role of the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in refugee health care. Through an electronic notification system set up by the Center for Disease and Control MDH learns of new refugees who have moved into Minnesota.
“A majority of the refugees are settled in the metro area… Hennepin and Ramsey counties,” said Chute, “however, quite a number have settled in greater Minnesota: St. Cloud, Rochester and Wilmar.”
Local public health clinics in each of these cities, coordinated by MDH, contact the new refugees and make appointments for them to see the doctors.
Typically, the first pre-screening visit will check for documentation on the refugee’s medical history, which is non-existent in many cases. However, refugee camps in other countries are increasingly offering “overseas visa medical exams” making the process easier once they are resettled in Minnesota and other places around the world.
The refugee screening program’s function is two-fold. In the initial contact by a pre-screening nurse, the refugee is tested for infectious diseases and to begin or continue on a recommended series of immunizations. Immunizations needs vary depending on the country of origin of the refugee and on available documentation.
“Refugee camps in African countries have not been rigorous in immunization campaigns,” Chute says. Screening is done for tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, intestinal parasites, lead in children under six years, sexually transmitted diseases and malaria.
Secondly, MDH’s program meets with refugees for overall medical checkups such as visual, dental, hearing, mental health and chronic illness.
Chute says that MDH has been successful in reaching most of refugees for the health screening, and is a leader across the country on refugee health screenings.
However, the program is not without challenges. For instance, to make mental health referrals they would need more contact with likely patients. With limited contact, it is hard to detect. Chute says that MDH is working on a pilot program with the Center for Victims and Torture to meet this shortfall.
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