CDC Promotes and Improves the Health of Refugees Every Day

Rohingya refugees in Nayapara refugee camp

CDC experts work with survey team members from Action Against Hunger measuring mid-upper arm circumference for a nutrition assessment of Rohingya refugees in Nayapara refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Nov 2017

Photo credit: Aimee Summers/CDC

June 20th is World Refugee Day. First observed in 2001, it commemorated the 50th anniversary of what was originally known as Africa Refugee Day. Today, it honors the courage and resilience of the world’s refugees.

CDC’s Role in Refugee Health

CDC works to ensure the health of all global citizens to help prevent pandemics. The Immigrant, Refugee, and Migrant Health (IRMH) Branchwithin CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, partners with agencies, governments, and organizations to promote and improve the health of immigrants, US-bound refugees, and migrants. For U.S.-bound refugees, IRMH oversees the required medical examination. They provide vaccinations and pre-department treatment for malaria and parasitic infections. IRMH’s Domestic Program has produced Refugee Health Profiles of specific refugee populations, which provide targeted cultural and health information about these groups. These profiles enable physicians and other caregivers to provide culturally competent care. Additionally, IRMH’s field programs in Nairobi, Kenya, and Bangkok, Thailand, work within their regions to improve refugee camp disease surveillance and disease mitigation. IRMH’s work also includes projects that strengthen health systems at country borders to prevent outbreaks.

For years, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases plagued the resettlement process. This often caused a halt in the resettlement process until the outbreaks were addressed. Ten years ago, CDC partnered with the Department of State Bureau of Populations, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to vaccinate refugees overseas before resettlement. Since then, more than 300,000 refugees received vaccinations, thereby preventing outbreaks that can cause delays in resettlement. Additionally, IRMH branch works closely with the Emergency Response Recovery Branch (ERRB) within the Center of Global Health’s Division of Global Health Protection (DGHP) on global humanitarian emergencies.

Operation Allies Welcome

Following the fall of Kabul, the United States evacuated more than 70,000 Afghans to Safe Havens, military bases, and a hotel convention center in the United States as part of Operation Allies Welcome. At these Safe Havens, CDC provided oversight and medical support to Afghans receiving COVID-19 testing and the required medical examination for immigration, which included vaccinations. CDC also worked to ensure that information from the medical examinations was routed to receiving health departments at the final destination to ensure proper follow-up of certain conditions, such as tuberculosis, as well as to ensure continuity of care for the domestic refugee medical examination recommended once they reach their final destination. Additionally, CDC provided several resources in multiple languages to Afghans, as well as resources to partners and guidance to laboratories assisting with Operation Allies Welcome.

 International Rescue Committee in Kakuma Refugee Camp

The U.S. government works with the International Rescue Committee in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya to provide health care to refugees and the Turkana host community.

© US Embassy Nairobi/K. Alderman

Partnerships Ensuring Continuum of Care

After arrival, refugees receive assistance with housing and health care coverage for 12 months. IRMH continues to work with partners to develop and distribute health education and communication materials that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for refugees. The CDC funds The National Resource Center for Refugees, Immigrants, and Migrants (NRC-RIM), which, supports health departments and community organizations working with refugee, immigrant, and migrant communities (RIM). In the past year, NRC-RIM launched several COVID-19-related products translated in as many as 44 languages, and much more. Through partnerships, refugees connect with domestic resources to ensure a continuum of care enabling them to live healthy, active, and productive lives in their new communities.

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