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Saturday 21st September 2019

Refugees missing out on cancer treatment

27th May 2014

Malnutrition and infectious diseases have long been the primary focus of refugee health work.

Cancer - Melanoma
However, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),  there is also a high level of demand for cancer treatment from refugees.

Dr Paul Spiegel and his team of researchers looked at funding applications made to the UNHCR Exceptional Care Committee (ECC).

The EEC is set up for non-communicable diseases and circumstances that go beyond the usual disease prevention circumstances and require further care - such as cancer.

The committee assessed nearly 2,000 applications from refugees in Jordan for treatment between 2010 and 2012.

The data they looked at showed the largest amounts approved (in single cases) were $4,626 in 2011 and $3,501 in 2012.

Dr Spiegel said: "The countries in the Middle East have welcomed millions of refugees, first from Iraq and then Syria.

"The burden has fallen disproportionately on the host countries to absorb the costs.

"For example, the Jordanian Ministry of Health footed an estimated $53m bill for medical care for refugees in the first four months of 2013."

He added: "Despite help from international organisations and donors to expand health facilities and pay for additional personnel and drugs, it has been insufficient."


On a podcast on the Lancet Oncology website, Dr Spiegel talks about his recommendations for non-communicable diseases that the EEC are asked to deal with.

Here are three of his recommendations:

  • Emphasise prevention through education of the national population and for the refugees, i.e diet advice and anti-smoking campaigns.
  • Innovative funding schemes - the EEC's tasks is to find a way to help the most people possible. It might be possible to encourage health insurance or other financing schemes.
  • To set up a regional web-databases to ensure greater continuity through up-to-date medical records.

  • Information is published in leading medical journal Lancet Oncology.

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