Ukraine refugees eligible for health checks at family medicine practices

Paide Family Medicine Center.
Paide Family Medicine Center. Source: ERR

Ukrainian war refugees who reach Estonia on their own are eligible for health checks in Estonian family medicine centers starting Monday. The Estonian Health Insurance Fund assures people that this will not impact access to medical care in any way.

A refugee's journey is not an easy one. A long trek to the border, hours if not days in the cold waiting to cross, with little to no way of maintaining hygiene create the perfect conditions for illness.

While Estonia only has free healthcare for those with health insurance, an exception will be made for people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

"Primary health checks will be offered on location for persons who reach a designated accommodation establishment. Emergency medical care teams tasked with this are standing by," Marko Tähnas, head of the fund's partner relations department, said.

People who arrive at acquaintances in Estonia can get a primary health check by visiting a family physician. The Health Insurance Fund will have a list of participating practices later in the week.

"There will be at least one major practice in each county, while all family medicine centers the patient list of which does not exceed 2,000 people will be seeing Ukrainian refugees in Harju, Pärnu, Lääne-Viru and Tartu counties that are expected to see most people," Tähnas said.

"Ideally, every refugee should get a health check inside a week of arriving in Estonia. This should include an appointment with a family doctor or nurse, bloodwork and certain viral markers," he explained.

Tähnas said it is important to know that refugees' visits to the doctor are financed separately and in no way impact Estonians' access to healthcare services.

"War always takes a toll on a person's medical condition in two main aspects. Firstly, it hits availability of medical services in the person's home country, while deteriorating living and hygiene conditions are just what infections need to spread more easily," said Juta Varjas, chief specialist for the Estonian Health Board's infectious diseases department.

The unfolding humanitarian disaster in Ukraine is creating fertile soil for infectious diseases that would not be a problem in peacetime.

"This entails the risk of these infections arriving in Estonia, while we know that vaccine coverage is less than stellar in many parts of Estonia, as is the case in Ukraine. Unvaccinated people are, therefore, especially at risk," Varjas said.

While there is no acute risk of outbreaks in Estonia, the Health Board urges getting recommended vaccines for children.

"When it comes to adults, we ask people to pay attention to vaccination information regarding measles, diphtheria, mumps, rubella, and, of course, Covid," Varjas said.

All Ukraine war refugees can take a Covid test and be vaccinated against the coronavirus in Estonia.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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