Refugees have not caused a wave of infectious diseases

East Tallinn Central Hospital (ITKH) ER.
East Tallinn Central Hospital (ITKH) ER. Source: Raigo Pajula/ITK

Ukrainian refugees have not brought with them a notable spike in infectious diseases, with only intestinal viral infections up slightly.

There have been several outbreaks of measles in Ukraine in recent years and even cases of poliomyelitis. Because Estonia has received 35,000 refugees from Ukraine, it has been suggested several infectious diseases could get a new start in the country. But recent data shows no such developments.

Irina Dontšenko, adviser at the communicable diseases department of the Estonian Health Board, told ERR that there have been no cases of measles in Estonia since the start of the Ukraine war. The number of viral intestinal infections cases, including rota- and noroviruses, has grown slightly.

In March, 24 Ukrainian refugees were diagnosed with the norovirus, all of them children. This made up less than a fifth of monthly cases. In April, five Ukrainian children or fewer than 6 percent of total cases were diagnosed.

The rotavirus was diagnosed in 24 refugees, all of whom were minors, in March. This was a little over 25 percent of March cases. In April, 11 Ukrainian children were diagnosed with the rotavirus for 12 percent of cases.

"Ukrainian refugees have also been diagnosed with HIV," Dontšenko added.

Vassili Novak, head of the emergency medicine center of the North Estonia Medical Center (PERH), said that while more people are coming to the ER, this is mostly due to all walks of life seeing increased activity after the Covid pandemic.

As of March 2, on average, two Ukrainian refugees have reached the PERH emergency room daily.

"The relative importance of Ukrainian refugees is negligible. But it does take longer to tend to refugees in the ER. They are sent to the family medicine system or specialist clinics based on the same grounds as locals," Novak said.

He said that Ukrainian refugees turn to the hospital with the same kinds of problems as locals, except in the case of prescription drugs for people who have not yet found a family doctor.

All Ukrainian refugees have access to free emergency medical care, including emergency dental care.

Emergency medical services check refugees' medical condition in reception centers in Tallinn, Tartu, Rakvere and Pärnu to find those who need help or hospitalization quickly. Arrivals are also tested for the coronavirus.

"Estonia has organized additional or general health checks for war refugees the aim of which is to get an overview of their medical condition, test for infections, administer vaccines, plan further treatment and write necessary prescriptions," the board's media relations specialist Kirsi Pruudel said.

War refugees can get vaccinated for free in Estonia, while the Health and Welfare Information Systems Center (TEHIK) is still working on an application to reflect relevant statistics.

In widely condemned remarks made during a Riigikogu sitting on April 13, opposition Conservative People's Party (EKRE) MP Mart Helme claimed that HIV and other infectious diseases are going to "return" to Estonia, brought in by war refugees from Ukraine, many of whom may get involved in prostitution here.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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