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Soc Sci Med. 1998 Jun;46(12):1637-53.

The refugee crisis in Africa and implications for health and disease: a political ecology approach.

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Department of Geography, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana 61801, USA.


Political violence in civil war and ethnic conflicts has generated millions of refugees across the African continent with unbelievable pictures of suffering and unnecessary death. Using a political ecology framework, this paper examines the geographies of exile and refugee movements and the associated implications for re-emerging and newly emerging infectious diseases in great detail. It examines how the political ecologic circumstances underlying the refugee crisis influences health services delivery and the problems of disease and health in refugee camps. It has four main themes, namely, an examination of the geography of the refugee crisis: the disruption of health services due to political ecologic forces that produce refugees; the breeding of disease in refugee camps due to the prevailing desperation and destitution; and the creation of an optimal environment for emergence and spread of disease due to the chaotic nature of war and violence that produces refugees. We argue in this paper that there is great potential of something more virulent than cholera and Ebola emerging and taking a big toll before being identified and controlled. We conclude by noting that once such a disease is out in the public rapid diffusion despite political boundaries is likely, a fact that has a direct bearing on global health. The extensive evidence presented in this paper of the overriding role of political factors in the refugee health problem calls for political reform and peace accords, engagement and empowerment of Pan-African organizations, foreign policy changes by Western governments and greater vigilance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the allocation and distribution of relief aid.

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