Immigrants run health risks

Health problems facing immigrants were highlighted on the last day of a recent conference of gynaecological and obstetrics experts, held in Tavira, welcoming more than 300 specialists from around the country.

Dr. Carlos Sousa Silva, from Faro District Hospital’s Gynaecological and Obstetrics Unit, said that the increased number of immigrants had contributed significantly to rising birth rates. He said that immigration was responsible for 87 per cent of the increase in the Portuguese population during 2004. He also stated that the increased numbers of immigrants represented a major challenge for health services – aside from other problems posed by illegality (of status) and language barriers.

“The breakdown of family ties, their lack of economic resources, their isolation and difficulty accessing health facilities, all make immigrants particularly vulnerable to infections,” he said.

But Dr. Silva made clear that the Portuguese constitution stresses that all citizens, legal or illegal, are entitled to receive health care. Under no circumstances whatever can the health service deny medical aid to foreign citizens, he added.

SEF (the office for foreigners and border control) says that a total of 460,115 immigrants were legalised in Portugal last year. Of these, 78,290 cases occurred in the Algarve. Most were Ukrainian (12,127), followed by British (10,807) and Brazilians (9,006).

Dr.Beatriz Cabrita, Director of Services at Faro District Hospital’s Gynaecological and Obstetrics Unit, stressed that one of the problems with illegal immigrants is that they fail to seek medical help in time, perhaps fearful of being apprehended by the authorities. Hence women arrive at centres in the final stages of pregnancy when they may be suffering from severe health problems.