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.
Advertisement"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 Australian research.
"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 asylum seekers."
In an accompanying editorial, Dr Christine Phillips from the Companion House Medical Service and ANU Medical School, 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.