Ten years of tracking mental health in refugee primary health care settings : an updated analysis of data from UNHCR’s Health Information System (2009–2018)

Background: This study examines mental, neurological, and substance use (MNS) service usage within refugee camp primary health care facilities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) by analyzing surveillance data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Health Information System (HIS). Such information is crucial for eforts to strengthen MNS services in primary health care settings for refugees in LMICs.


Methods: Data on 744,036 MNS visits were collected from 175 refugee camps across 24 countries between 2009 and 2018. The HIS documented primary health care visits for seven MNS categories: epilepsy/seizures, alcohol/substance use disorders, mental retardation/intellectual disability, psychotic disorders, severe emotional disorders, medically unexplained somatic complaints, and other psychological complaints. Combined data were stratifed by 2-year period, country, sex, and age group. These data were then integrated with camp population data to generate MNS service utilization rates, calculated as MNS visits per 1000 persons per month.


Results: MNS service utilization rates remained broadly consistent throughout the 10-year period, with rates across all camps hovering around 2–3 visits per 1000 persons per month. The largest proportion of MNS visits were attributable to epilepsy/seizures (44.4%) and psychotic disorders (21.8%). There were wide variations in MNS service utilization rates and few consistent patterns over time at the country level. Across the 10 years, females had higher MNS service utilization rates than males, and rates were lower among children under fve compared to those fve and older.


Conclusions: Despite increased eforts to integrate MNS services into refugee primary health care settings over the past 10 years, there does not appear to be an increase in overall service utilization rates for MNS disorders within these settings. Healthcare service utilization rates are particularly low for common mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use. This may be related to diferent health-seeking behaviors
for these disorders and because psychological services are often ofered outside of formal health settings and consequently do not report to the HIS. Sustained and equitable investment to improve identifcation and holistic management of MNS disorders in refugee settings should remain a priority. 

Shoshanna L. Fine, Jeremy C. Kane, Paul B. Spiegel, Wietse A. Tol & Peter Ventevogel | 2022
In: BMC Medicine ; ISSN: 1741-7015 | 20 | May | 183
Affected Populations, Alcohol Abuse, Anxiety Disorders, Depressive Disorders, Drug Abuse, Emotional States, Epidemiology, Females, Health Care Utilization, Low‐income countries, Males, Mental health, Migrants, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (en), Refugees, Research
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