Community-based asylum seekers have only limited access to
primary health care in Australia
which negatively impacts their physical and mental health, according to recent
research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The reported experiences of community-based asylum seekers
revealed that their access to primary health care was limited by a range of
barriers, including Medicare ineligibility, health care costs and the effects
of social, financial and psychological stress, Prof Mark Harris and colleagues from
the University of
New South Wales said.
"The impact of inadequate access reported in our study
includes physical suffering, considerable anxiety, and a risk of deterioration
in health status.
"Asylum seekers reported experiencing a range of post-migration
stressors that may impede their access to health care, in line with previous
"Moreover, inadequate access to health care emerged as a
stressor in itself, consistent with research identifying it as a stressor and a
significant predictor of depression and anxiety among asylum seekers.
"Access to primary care would be improved by extending
Medicare eligibility to all asylum seekers. This is unlikely to add
significantly to the cost of the health care system, and would bring Australia's
policy into line with that of similar countries.
"Principles of disease prevention and the right of every
person to health care should drive measures to improve the availability and
affordability of general practice care and health support services for these
In an accompanying editorial, Dr Christine Phillips from the
Companion House Medical Service and ANU
and colleagues said, "Achieving good health care for refugees in Australia
presents a number of challenges, both for the refugees who seek care and for
the health care practitioners who seek to provide effective services".
"These problems reflect, in part, inadequate networks of
communication between health care providers, and between health care providers
and policymakers," Dr Phillips said.
Problems can include health care providers being unaware of
how to manage unfamiliar disease profiles and unaware of specific provisions
for refugees' needs. Further, emerging issues in refugee health care are rarely
met with timely public policy solutions, Dr Phillips said.
"The recently formed Refugee Health Network of Australia
(RHeaNA) is helping to overcome these barriers. RHeaNA is a national
collaboration of over 140 refugee health service providers."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the
Australian Medical Association.