Refugees also have a right to adequate palliative care

Categories: Policy.

The WHO states that: “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being.” On UN World Refugee Day it is important to reiterate that this applies equally to people classified as refugees.

The fulfilment of this right is pushing both governmental and non-governmental organizations’ capacity to their limits as the number of refugees across Africa continues to rise.  

For example, more than 60,000 people classified as refugees entered Rwanda and Uganda in 2012 – resulting in significant challenges for each host country. It is estimated that there are approximately 100,000 people who are classified as refugees in Uganda who have fled the Democratic Republic of Congo.

One of the many challenges for host countries such as Uganda is how to provide adequate health care for the asylum seekers and refugees.

In 2010 Nemia Temporal, the deputy representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Uganda, said that they “can hardly meet international standards of indicators such as water, health and food,” let alone implement an adequate standard of holistic health care that includes palliative care provision.

Indeed, this often ignored problem has been building for a number of years. In 2010 it was estimated that there was only 1 doctor per every 16,000 refugees. Juliet Muhumunza, project manager with the German development agency (GTZ) – the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) implementing health partner, commented at the time saying: “Lack of medical staff is only the tip of the iceberg of our humanitarian assistance gaps.”

Indeed, it is thought that only 50 of Uganda’s 112 districts have access to palliative care services.

Marleen Masclee works for the African Palliative Care Association based in Kampala and has worked with worked with refugees and IDPs in Darfur, the DRC and South Sudan. She has commented saying: “From my personal experience, refugees often struggle to attain even the most basic standards of primary health care, let alone adequate palliative care.”

She continued: “Palliative care is a human right that applies equally to refugee populations. NGOs need to be working with government to ensure that these refugees receive the palliative support and care that they need.”