Sunday, January 13, 2008

Grants to help refugees from Myanmar obtain health care

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Northeastern Indiana charities bracing for another wave of refugees fleeing Myanmar's repressive regime say $133,000 in grants from Catholic Charities will help provide health care to the often sickly new arrivals.

Catholic Charities, the local State Department-approved refugee-sponsoring agency, expects about 30 refugees to arrive in Fort Wayne in early February from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Those arrivals will be the first of an estimated 800 to 1,000 new refugees from Myanmar who will settle in the city this year, said Debbie Schmidt, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend.

"We have a massive amount of refugees coming in," said Schmidt, who was in Washington, D.C., last week to lobby for additional aid for Catholic Charities and other local agencies serving the refugees.

Fort Wayne is home to an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 people from Myanmar who have fled the Southeast Asian nation, where a military junta has cracked down on supporters of democracy.

In an average year, 100 to 200 refugees from Myanmar settle in Allen County. But secondary migration from other communities accounts for an even greater portion of the refugee population.

About 40 percent of the adult refugees from Myanmar are likely to be infected with latent tuberculosis and hepatitis, officials have said. Many of the children will likely suffer from low body weight and will need standard childhood vaccinations, the foundation said.

About $98,000 of the new grant money will create a Refugee Health Program and pay for a coordinator and an administrative aide. Another $35,000 will help coordinate medical interpreters, said the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, which announced the grants Friday.

The new health program will coordinate medical follow-ups for refugees by setting appointments, providing help with Medicaid, arranging for transportation and interpreters.

The grant money will also help to enhance electronic medical records shared among local free or low-cost medical providers and the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health.

Fort Wayne's city-county health department anticipates asking the Allen County Council for additional money to help pay for disease screening and follow-up services for refugees. Health officials are also seeking a waiver to charge Medicaid for services provided to covered patients.

Source: Indy Star

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