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Refugee health program is topic of doctor's talk

By Dawn Schuett

schuett@postbulletin.com

Although they're not mandated, health assessments given to refugees coming to Minnesota offer benefits beyond the health of one individual, according to a Mayo Clinic physician.

Dr. Sally Trippel, who works in the Mayo division of preventive and occupational medicine, said such assessments eliminate problems that might be barriers to refugees' success in Minnesota while protecting the health of others in the community.

Trippel spoke Thursday during the last lecture of a seven-week series on public health issues. About 20 people attended the lecture at the Medical Sciences Building in Rochester.

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Before refugees are allowed to come to the United States, they undergo physical exams and are checked for untreated sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection, leprosy, mental illness, tuberculosis and drug addiction. If refugees have any of those conditions, in most cases they are not allowed to come to the United States.

Refugees who pass the tests, and resettle in Minnesota have another health assessment once they're here, Trippel said. Their immunization record is checked and they're screened for TB, intestinal parasites, malaria and mental health problems.

Of the 2,071 refugees screened in 2003 in Olmsted County, 53 percent had a TB infection and most of those people had latent infections, Trippel said.

It's important that refugees continue to be screened for infectious diseases once they've arrived in Minnesota because many come from countries affected by civil strife and lack medical care, she said.

Nancy Henry, who previously worked for Catholic Charities to resettle refugees, now is with Experience Works, where she helps adults 55 and older, some of them refugees, find employment.

Refugees want to share in the American dream, Henry said. However, the reality is they come here with enormous barriers and challenges to overcome, she said.

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