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Challenges and Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Asylum Seeker Health at the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Reynolds CW, Ramanathan V, Lorenzana E, Das PJ, Sagal KM, Lozada-Soto KM, Deda LC, Haque AS, Schmitzberger FF, Quiroga G, Raven SA, Heisler M. Challenges and Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Asylum Seeker Health at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Health equity. 2021 Apr 13; 5(1):169-180.

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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic presents health care challenges to asylum seekers living in congregate encampments, including those along the U.S.-Mexico border. It is necessary to understand the impact of the pandemic among this population to address health care needs, reduce transmission, and diminish COVID-19-related morbidity. Thirty interviews were conducted with asylum seekers and health care professionals in a temporary camp in Matamoros, Mexico to determine challenges, perceptions, and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews were coded in NVivo12 by using a team-based approach. The pandemic caused significant mental health burdens but no perceived adverse physical effects, with the U.S. border closure and health care access barriers as more pressing concerns. Participants reported access to information about COVID-19 but had varied levels of knowledge and adherence to disease reduction strategies due to camp conditions. Most participants believed that they had special protection from COVID-19, including strong immune systems or from God. The nongovernmental organizations providing health care and sanitation faced multiple challenges to implement new policies to manage COVID-19. The institution of required temperature checks and quarantine of COVID-19 positive patients led to distrust, decreased seeking of health care services among asylum seekers, and possible underreporting of COVID-19 cases. Our findings among asylum seekers in a Matamoros camp highlight the challenges to implementing disease reduction policies in low-resource congregate camps. Policies to address disease outbreaks focusing on the social determinants of health, health care access barriers, and community engagement may be more acceptable to asylum seekers, suggesting the need for effective strategies to provide prevention information that complements such measures.

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