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Welcome to New York: Refugees arrive with unique health needs

illustration of old woman and childNew York state, and Central New York in particular, are big refugee resettlement areas, and those refugees can face a wide range of health problems, notes Ranit Mishori, MD, a Georgetown University professor who lectured recently on the topic at Upstate.

New York state welcomed nearly 4,000 refugees in 2014, with 95 percent resettling outside of New York City and Long Island. Nearly half are from Burma (Myanmar) or Bhutan, about a quarter from Africa, fewer than 20 percent from the Middle East and about 2 percent from Cuba.

Every refugee‘s case is different, says Mishori, who grew up in Israel and witnessed torture while in the Israeli military and whose grandparents were German Jews who fled the Holocaust.

She tells health care providers that:

  • refugees are not necessarily poor. They might be intellectuals or members of an elite group and may have Westernized diseases, such as diabetes.

  • refugees may have experienced malnutrition, exhaustion, rape, torture and other violence, as well as a lack of vaccinations, dental care and sanitation.

  • practices such as female genital mutilation present a range of cultural as well as health problems.

  • post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and panic attacks are common among refugees.

Mishori cites a survey that showed doctors neglected to ask refugees whether they had been tortured, and that refugees rarely volunteered that information. As a remedy, she says a new model for refugee health care may include taking a trauma history.

spring 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazineThis article appears in the spring 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine