According to data from the Red Cross in the Canary Islands, a total of 702 migrants made it to the region’s shores from the continent of Africa and, although 82% of them had no illnesses or health conditions that could be passed onto others, this still means 18% of them, or 126, did indeed have medical problems that were a possible concern to others as well as themselves.
Over 15% of the 702 had Hepatitis B, another 0.71% had the more serious Hepatitis C – against which there is no vaccination available – and 1.28% were carriers of the HIV virus, whilst a couple of cases of tuberculosis were detected.
Migrant helpers should bear in mind that the Hepatitis A vaccination given for travel to certain tropical countries does not protect against Hepatitis B or C – Hepatitis A is contracted through contaminated food or water.
Given that refugees often come from countries with no proper healthcare system or where only the wealthy can access care, where vaccinations are frequently non-existent and where tropical diseases are common, police in Spain say it makes sense for anyone coming into contact with them to take precautions.
As well as Hepatitis B vaccinations and the usual self-protection – such as wearing gloves, using disinfectant, cleaning cuts and treating them with antiseptic, and washing hands thoroughly – those working directly with migrants as they reach the shores or climb the border fences into Ceuta and Melilla should wear masks to avoid catching tuberculosis, which is contagious, meaning it travels through the air and does not need person-to-person contact to spread.
Sufferers who cough, spit or sneeze expel bacteria which can infect healthy persons around them.
The police recommendation list also covers mites which, although not detected as yet in any migrants, are a possibility among those who have been living rough or in refugee camps for a long time.
Mites infect the skin, causing an itchy, stinging rash and normally pass through prolonged flesh-to-flesh contact, although in rare cases can be passed on through clothing and blankets.
Police advise those working with migrants to avoid brushing against any textiles that have been on the new arrivals.
Authorities carrying out searches on migrants arriving should ask them to turn out their own pockets rather than putting their hands inside.
All workers should wash their hands before leaving the site and before eating or smoking, police warn.
Once the migrants are in safe accommodation, they will automatically be given medical checks and treatment, and Spain’s government has made it compulsory for all immigrants, irrespective of their status, to be allowed free health care – and, in fact, most regional health authorities have defied the previous government’s 2012 ban on medical care for undocumented foreigners.
This means anyone who is established in Spain and walking the street is no more likely to be a carrier of an infectious or contagious condition than any ordinary resident, since they would be able to go to a doctor at the first sign of any symptoms and, in the event their condition was catching, would probably be placed in isolation in hospital.
The advice only applies to immediate arrivals getting off boats, as they would not have had access to medical treatment – residents who ‘foster’ refugees or work with them in an administrative or charitable capacity once they are in situ, legally or otherwise, should not need to be concerned.