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Kentucky Health Professionals Prepare to Welcome Refugees in 2016

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While talks of barring refugees from coming to the U.S. persist among politicians, Kentucky agencies are preparing to welcome some 2,000 refugees from around the world in 2016.

And those refugees will need health care.

The University of Louisville’s Refugee Health Program looks at health issues for those fleeing threats and violence, and provides services to people resettling in Kentucky.

Last year, 2,141 adult and children refugees received health screenings in Louisville, Bowling Green and Owensboro, according to the Kentucky Refugee Health Assessment Report, released on Thursday.

Rahel Bosson, director of the program, said although there are certain conditions that are population-specific among refugees, overall, some of the top health concerns for refugees are also common for Kentuckians.

“Dental abnormalities — things like cavities, tooth abscess. Vision problems, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, tobacco abuse,” she said.

More than 50 percent of refugees who resettled in Kentucky were considered overweight or obese; 14 percent had high cholesterol; 24 percent had a positive mental health screening; and 20 percent tested positive for at least one parasite.

“A lot of these refugees come with significant mental health, significant trauma and history of trauma,Bosson said.

In 2014, refugees arrived in Kentucky from 26 different countries. More than 30 percent were from Cuba; 19 percent were from Iraq; 12 percent were from Myanmar and Somalia, respectively; 11 percent were from Bhutan/Nepal; 7 percent were from Democratic Republic of Congo; and 2 percent were from Afghanistan.

Bosson said health care is an essential component of self-sufficiency.

“It’s when you’re well, when you’re physically able, when you’re healthy that you can actually then move to be able to have a job, to get an education, to learn,” she said.

Seven clinics provide health screenings for refugees in Kentucky: Family Health Centers, U of L’s 550 Clinic, Bluegrass Community Health Center, Home of the Innocents, Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center, Fairview Community Health Center and Green River District Health Department.

Most of the refugees screened last year were 34 years old or younger.

Children were most likely to be referred to a dentist (39 percent), while adults were more likely to be referred to a primary care physician.

The report also shows that a refugee’s home country may also indicate what their top health condition will be. In Burma, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, the top health condition was dental abnormalities.

In Bhutan and Somalia, it was tuberculosis exposure. And in Afghanistan, it was anemia.

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