Dentists can help provide oral healthcare for displaced persons from their own communities

25 October 2017 Healthcare

More people than ever are affected by forced displacement as a result of persecution, armed conflict, widespread violence, and human rights violations. Across the world, delivering effective healthcare to displaced populations has proved challenging due to limitations in health systems.

A precarious state for the global population

In a world of 7.6 billion people, an unprecedented 65.6 million persons are forcibly displaced from their homes according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This figure – the highest ever witnessed – includes:

  • 40.3 million internally displaced people
  • 22.8 million refugees
  • 2.8 million asylum-seekers

More than half of all refugees worldwide come from Syria (5.5 million), Afghanistan (2.5 million), and South Sudan (1.4 million), and they are mostly being hosted by low- and middle-income countries. While Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees worldwide (2.9 million people), Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees (1 million people) relative to its national population – where 1 in 6 people is a refugee.

©American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA)

©American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA)

The barriers to health for everyone

Displaced populations are at high risk of disease outbreaks due to poor living conditions, lack of clean water and sanitation, and barriers to access basic health services. They are also at an increased risk of poor oral health, as this usually tends to take a backseat to general health concerns. Accessing oral healthcare can therefore become a challenge, particularly in unfamiliar host countries where oral care itself may be considered as a luxury by its own populations due to inequalities in socioeconomic status.

According to the German Dental Association, in 2015 and 2016, more than 1 million people applied for asylum in Germany. Some of the challenges they have found in providing oral healthcare to refugees include working with an unclear health insurance status; an ambiguous definition of a standard package of healthcare; limited financing of prevention and treatment; difficulty to find enough physicians, dentists and a dental team to treat patients; managing expectations based on different cultural backgrounds; and a lack of enough qualified interpreters.  

What can dentists do to help?

There is much work still needed to develop migrant-sensitive health policies and to strengthen existing health systems so they can meet the growing needs of displaced and host populations. In the meantime, dentists can have a positive impact on the lives of displaced persons seeking oral healthcare in their own communities by providing multilingual information on their website and social media about their health systems; prevention and treatment; dental practices with multilingual capacities; FAQ-sheets and medical history forms; and by using pictograms to support non-verbal communication.

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