Refugee Health

July 12, 2016 at 8:45 am Leave a comment

by Aiko Kaji, RN, MPH

I attended the North American Refugee Health Conference on June 12-14, 2016 in Niagara Falls, NY. I presented my independent study on Barriers to Healthcare Access Among Karen Refugee Children Living in Houston TX. The Karen were among the first ethnic minority groups to engage in armed struggles with the Burmese military government after Burma’s independence from British rule in 1948. Armed ethnic conflict within Burma has driven more than 130,000 refugees across the border into refugee camps within Thailand over the past three decades. Since 2005, more than 73,000 refugees from Burma have resettled in the United States.

Nearly 650 attendees, including medical doctors, nurses, public health officers and social workers joined the conference. The conference was eye-opening and encouraged me to purse my career in refugee health. I didn’t expect that such a huge number of people are interested in refugee health and are currently working for refugee populations in settings such as primary care clinics, refugee resettlement agencies, governmental institutes and international organizations in the United States and abroad.

I cannot stop thinking about a refugee’s story that one of the key speakers shared with the audience: about the life of a Karen refugee. A Karen refugee died of an asthma attack last year. His death could have been prevented if his wife, also a Karen refugee, had known how to call 911. This story shows how challenging their lives are. The presentation reminds me of Karen refugee mothers in Houston who did not know where to take their sick children.

Refugees are vulnerable and are often neglected from our mainstream society. Not only families and friends, but also communities and society, might have prevented the tragedy. During the conference, mass shooting violence in Orlando was on the front page of all the newspapers; the shooter was a son of Afghan immigrants. I really hope this does not lead to negative feelings toward refugees and immigrants. Rather than prejudice, we need to unify the diverse communities for our future.

Aiko Kaji is a second year PhD student at Tulane concentrating on migration and health. She is currently preparing for her prospectus defense, and plans to graduate in 2017/2018. Since 2007, she has worked extensively with Burmese/Myanmar refugees and migrants along the Thai-Burma/Myanmar border.



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