The United Nations’ Approach to Providing Healthcare Services to All Refugees
Numerical datas reserved by the United Nations show that towards the end of 2019, 79.5 million people worldwide were recorded as forcibly replaced. Among those there were 26 million refugees, half of them being under the age of 18, only 385,000 of whom could return to their native land and continue living freely as they used to. Excluding that portion, a large number of refugees still do not have access to basic care services to meet their vital needs, which is considered a fundamental right according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Constitution. To tackle this problem, the United Nations (UN) has been providing humanitarian and financial assistance to refugees, especially to those who are closer to borders or conflict zones.
Even though the agenda is repeatedly being considered by many organs of the United Nations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is one of the most involved organizations about the issue and operates in 134 countries around the world. The main means preferred by the commissioner are the works partnered with national ministries and related Non-profit Organizations (NGOs) with the aim of providing medical equipment in times of emergencies, also continuously advocating for the integration of “vulnerable groups” into national healthcare systems within affordable budgets.
In order to objectively analyze the solutions proposed by the UN, biggest threats to the disadvantaged populations should be considered. The first aspect that can be mentioned is the support to the maintenance of community health, which is ensured by the establishment of clinics with basic supplies to diagnose and treat common diseases that do not carry too big of a risk. Those clinics are also benefited as the workers teach the patients about hygiene and preventative healthcare in such times. Other aspects are described as the “communicable” and “noncommunicable” diseases. Communicable diseases are the main cause of death to many refugees around the world as they spread quite easily due to weakened immune systems, since the access to sanitary environment and clean water is interrupted. For their cases of occurrence, the UN funds infrastructure and capacity buildings, medical equipments and laboratory diagnostics. Nonetheless, Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases are also cause of a high mortality rate among refugees since their treatments are discontinued due to conditions of warfare. To help with this situation, the United Nations manages the project of closely monitoring and data collection through the iRHIS (Integrated Refugee Health Information System) to meet their vital needs.
Another point that the UN focuses on is the prevention of HIV among refugees. Many host countries are unwilling to provide adequate programs under this service to which the refugees have the rights under international refugee and humanitarian law. Thus, the fact that HIV can become more fatal for the disadvantaged groups also creates a stigma revolving around the idea that the prevalence of the virus being more frequent among those groups, even though it is proven that the host countries' are usually at a higher frequency. The main reason behind the whole occurrence is the fact that sexual violence towards women and children has become a weapon that is used during wars, as civilians have little to no protection during times of conflict. To tackle this problem, in 2011, all UN member states signed the “Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS” emphasizing that mentioned groups are at a higher risk of exposure to such viruses and should all be protected. Via declarations and previously signed conventions, the UN has already invited all states to include refugees who live close to borders / conflict zones to their programs dedicated to prevention of spread of the virus and ensure reaching them by existing inter-governmental platforms. It is also encouraged by the UN to advocate to eliminate the stigma concerning the agenda for related organizations.
In addition to all regular aids mentioned above, it is necessary to include all aid provided by the UN during the latest pandemic. Considering the fact that refugees and vulnerable groups have always been the most affected by the pandemic throughout history, the services concerning the treatment and prevention process of COVID-19 were not provided adequately by most host countries for these groups. During this period, the lack of sanitary products available for those in poverty triggered the spread of the highly contagious disease. To eliminate this factor, the UNHCR provided protective equipment such as masks, disinfectants and medications to refugee camps. After a certain period of time, with the dissemination of vaccines, the spread of the virus became more controllable. However, the refugees in poverty still were not able to benefit from it completely, due to inadequate cold chain vaccine providing systems in bordering areas. With a collaboration of UNHCR, UNICEF and WHO, it is aimed to ensure that vaccines are readily available and tracked in most rural areas close to conflict zones and that the routine health services are continued.
As seen in all stated cases, the main way of aid provided by the UN to the refugees in need are acquired by funds, data-collection programs and guidance to all member states. The main goal evidently seems to include refugees, even those who are harder to reach, to national healthcare programs and policies to improve accessibility to all, as assured in numerous products of international law. Lastly, based upon all noticed remarks, it can be said that it has helped many people to regain their lives in health or at least keep their chance of doing so in the future.
“Human Rights.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-rights-and-health.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Access to Healthcare.” UNHCR, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, https://www.unhcr.org/access-to-healthcare.html.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Public Health during COVID-19.” UNHCR, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, https://www.unhcr.org/health-covid-19.html.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Sexual and Reproductive Health.” UNHCR, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, https://www.unhcr.org/reproductive-health.html.