WHO/Europe and the Ministry of Health of Hungary conduct a joint assessment of refugee and migrant health in Hungary

WHO/Sara Barragán Montes

The WHO Regional Office for Europe and the Ministry of Health of Hungary conducted a joint assessment mission on 12–16 October 2015 to analyse the public health implications of large arrivals of refugees and migrants and the capacity of the Hungarian health system to cope. The mission included meetings and interviews with decision-makers and experts at national and subnational levels, as well as with representatives of NGOs. Field visits were organized to the refugee camps in Bicske and Kiskunhalas, the children's home in Fót, the Baptist Aid's family homes and the transit zones in Röszke and Szeged. A joint assessment report will be published shortly with the key findings of the mission and recommendations on areas in which collaboration may be established to strengthen the country's public health response and capacity.

Since 2011, the growing instability in Middle Eastern and African countries has resulted in huge numbers of refugees and migrants, many of whom arrive in Hungary. According to UNHCR figures, 3118 applications for asylum were registered in the country in 2008, while over 175 000 applications were registered in the first 9 months of 2015. The number of entries has decreased during the past few weeks because of the fences being built at the borders.

Adapting to diversity: towards migrant-sensitive health systems

Many sectors of the Government are involved in managing the refugee and migrant crisis in Hungary, under the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior. The health sector at national and subnational levels works with representatives of the Ministry and with the health departments of the police and the military forces.

The rapid escalation of the numbers of people entering the country has overstretched the capacity of the health system and its health workforce. Data collected over the past few months confirm, however, that the public health and epidemiological situation is stable, with no major importation of communicable diseases associated with the arrivals. Most refugees and migrants stay in Hungary for only a few hours or days; this poses difficulties for vaccination or the treatment of chronic and other diseases. Communication and cultural differences were reported as the main informal barriers to access to health care by refugees and migrants, indicating that the health systems should adequately adapt to the specific and diverse needs of these population groups on the move.