CePH Lunch Talk by Dr Susheela Balasundaram, 10th September 2014

Another lunch talk was hosted by the CePH on the 10th September 2014 by Dr Susheela Balasundaram from UNHCR. The topic was on Health and Forced Displacement: Urban Refugees in Malaysia and was attended by about 30 participants from outside and within the department. According to Dr Susheela, Malaysia is host to some 146,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers. 93% of the refugees come from Myanmar. The rest is from Sri Lanka, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq and small numbers of other nationalities. Under Malaysian law, refugees and asylum seekers are considered “illegal” immigrants and are in principle subject to arrest and detention. Their illegal status ultimately results in a lack of access to health care services, education, employment, and an adequate standard of living. The experience of having to flee home and arrive in a country of asylum often leaves indelible effects on the physical and mental health of a refugee. Refugees in Malaysia are able to access public health facilities, but costs, security and communication issues remain an obstacle to those seeking health care. Migrants and refugees are often cited as reasons for the increasing incidence of infectious diseases (e.g. TB), but there is yet to be coordinated effort to effectively address health issues in the displaced through more inclusive national health programming by the health authorities. Health programming for a displaced population in an urban setting is highly challenging with a geographically dispersed population possessing little disposable income to spend on related health care costs. Though infectious diseases remain a significant problem in the displaced population, chronic non- infectious diseases are gaining prominence and needs to be adequately addressed with the appropriate interventions to prevent future costly complications. Dr Susheela reckons that National health systems dealing with displaced and migrant populations should rethink programming strategies towards more inclusive approaches that will ensure health for all people.

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