Delivering Public Health Advice to Syrian Refugees

Refugees experience unique and severe public health challenges. In particular, the massive refugee crisis occurring due to the civil war in Syria is presenting health officials in countries accepting refugees with a number of complicated issues.

According to an article from Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, refugees have overwhelmed the health systems in the countries surrounding Syria. Many refugees are children, and are experiencing severe mental health issues related to trauma. A blog post on Kevin MD explores some additional issues, including lack of help for family planning and pregnancy, STI’s, lack of basic sanitation and safety, cholera, and the reoccurrence of once eradicated diseases like polio. Even refugees who reach safer locations, like Canada, still face health risks.

What is being done in the social marketing space to assist Syrian refugees? In a comprehensive report titled “Regional Public Health and Nutrition Strategy for Syrian Refugees: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey,” the United Nations Human Rights Council details communications plans they are enacting with refugees, including creating guides for refugees (using instructional pictures and appropriate languages) explaining how to access care in their new country, using text messages, and creating radio and television ads. All of this will be supported by on the ground community health workers.

A timeline of CDC activities regarding the refugee crisis includes many social marketing components, including creating educational materials about the spread of tuberculosis, campaigns to increase vaccinations for measles, cholera, and polio, campaigns to gather information from refugees about their health, and campaigns to distribute health information to refugees as they start to enter Europe.

The World Health Organization, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, Turkey, has also created Arabic language materials for refugees, providing basic information like how to live healthy, how to use antibiotics, and how to protect oneself from infectious disease.

These efforts reflect the importance of public health communications in times of crisis, including how vital it is for these activities to be done with cultural relevance in mind.

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