ATHENS (Reuters) – Refugees and migrants in Greece receive little or no medical care for most health problems they face and fewer than half of those pregnant had access to maternal care, aid group Doctors of the World said on Tuesday.
About 60,000 migrants and refugees are stranded in Greece, most in overcrowded camps with unsanitary conditions. More than half of this year’s 20,000 arrivals were women and children, United Nations data shows.
Doctors of the World interviewed over 14,000 women treated at its clinics in Greece over three years and found fewer than 47 percent had access to antenatal care before it intervened.
It also found as many as 72 percent of the health problems refugees faced were treated “inadequately” or not at all.
While most countries offer new arrivals some kind of medical screening, the quality was “questionable” and overlooked mental health problems, the charity said.
Often, women did not seek medical care because they were unaware of their rights, they found the healthcare system too complex or they were afraid of being arrested or discriminated against. Limited resources and lack of access to services such as translators also posed practical obstacles.
“Every mother deserves good care before, during and post pregnancy. Their residential status should not affect this basic right,” said Nikitas Kanakis, head of Doctors of the World Greece.
The charity, together with Merck Sharp Dohme (MSD), is implementing a two-year initiative aimed at providing maternal healthcare services to pregnant women and babies from vulnerable populations in Greece.
Asylum seekers in Greece have free access to hospitals and medical care but the public health system, already battered by years of economic crisis, is struggling to cope with the numbers.
Adult migrants without documents only have access to emergency care unless they are considered “vulnerable”.
“Access to quality maternal healthcare can save lives, yet across Europe the most vulnerable pregnant women are still facing challenges in accessing this basic care,” said Mary-Ann Etiebet, director of MSD for Mothers.
A lack of antenatal care to prevent and identify conditions that may harm the fetus or mother increases the risk of complications during childbirth or passing on diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis B, the World Health Organisation says.
“We must work together this address this issue before it escalates further,” Etiebet said.
Editing by Ed Osmond