Portugal’s health service “lacks almost everything” needed to help incoming refugees

Portugal’s state health service is woefully ill-equipped to deal with incoming refugees. The fact that it does not have doctors or health professionals familiar with refugee cultures means that failings start with diagnosis, and then undermine the whole ‘doctor-patient’ relationship.

Who says this is anthropologist Cristina Santinho, who has been working with refugees living in Portugal since 2007.

Santinho’s concern is that without what she calls “intercultural mediators” – working with doctors, patients and institutions – the scenario of real integration will be impossible.

“It is not enough to translate the languages,” she told Lusa. “What is needed is to understand the symbolic significance of what is being translated.”

That is the enormous challenge currently undermining the health system’s approach to incoming migrants, and one which Santinho will be presenting today in a talk at CES (the centre for social studies) in Coimbra, entitled: “The suffering of refugees in Portugal: medical diagnosis and analysis error”.

The investigator – whose doctorate centred on Portugal’s treatment of refugees – stresses that Portugal’s lack of ‘good policies’ is not limited to the health service.

Lack of structure affects “access to employment” and even the teaching of Portuguese as a language.

It is a reality that makes the creation of “intercultural mediators” fundamental, she claims, so that there can be a bridge between exhausted, emotional people and the country that has been chosen to help them.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com