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UNHCR helps secure health insurance for all registered refugees in Iran

News Stories, 11 August 2011

© UNHCR/Z.Soleimani
An Afghan refugee receives basic health care. The new health insurance scheme will help the seriously ill and the vulnerable.

TEHERAN, Islamic Republic of Iran, August 11 (UNHCR) Afghan refugee Gholam Reza has been worried about his health for some time, but he's been too poor to do much about it. "We do not have health insurance and I can not afford to go to a hospital," said the family head, who fled to Iran more than 30 years ago.

That's recently changed, thanks to an agreement between UNHCR, the Islamic Republic of Iran government and a local insurance company to allow the 1 million registered Afghan and Iraqi refugees to benefit from health insurance. To date, they have only been covered for kidney failure and the genetic blood disorders of haemophilia and thalassemia, while also enjoying access to primary health care. .

Under this pilot health insurance scheme, each refugee will pay a subsidized rate of US$16 per year to Alborz Insurance, or 58 per cent of the actual cost of the insurance premium, with UNHCR paying for the rest. The UN refugee agency will pay 100 per cent of the premium for vulnerable refugee groups.

Refugees holding the new health insurance cards will now benefit from a wide range of services, including hospital treatment, ambulance services and natal care.

For Reza, joining the insurance scheme will mean getting treatment for his slipped disc, a problem that has been ailing him for years. "I have not been able to work for quite a while now," he said. "My wife and children are worried all the time about how to survive." Afghan refugees in Iran are allowed to seek employment. Most work in low-paid occupations such as construction and agriculture.

Reza seemed happier, if a bit apprehensive, after getting his card. "This is a new thing and we are still not sure how it will work. We are just hopeful," Reza told UNHCR. "I hope this scheme will be good for refugees," he said.

Bernie Doyle, UNHCR's representative in Iran, welcomed the development. "It's a ground-breaking scheme," he said, adding that "refugees without insurance coverage had found it impossible to pay for anything other than the most basic health care, jeopardizing their long-term health prospects and also their ability to work and sustain themselves."

The new insurance deal complements UNHCR's existing health interventions in Iran, where it helps ensure that refugees get free access to primary health care.

By Dina Faramarzi in Teheran, Islamic Republic of Iran

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UNHCR country pages

Public Health

The health of refugees and other displaced people is a priority for UNHCR.

Health crisis in South Sudan

There are roughly 105,000 refugees in South Sudan's Maban County. Many are at serious health risk. UNHCR and its partners are working vigorously to prevent and contain the outbreak of malaria and several water-borne diseases.

Most of the refugees, especially children and the elderly, arrived at the camps in a weakened condition. The on-going rains tend to make things worse, as puddles become incubation areas for malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Moderately malnourished children and elderly can easily become severely malnourished if they catch so much as a cold.

The problems are hardest felt in Maban County's Yusuf Batil camp, where as many as 15 per cent of the children under 5 are severely malnourished.

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Squalid conditions and lack of proper health care mean that simple ailments can easily develop into complications. There is little employment in Galkayo and most displaced people find informal day labour, such as collecting garbage or washing clothes for the locals.

UNHCR provides basic assistance to Galkayo's displaced people through vocational training and income generation programs meant to improve their livelihoods. The refugee agency also provides temporary shelter and emergency relief items for vulnerable families.

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Afghan Refugees in Iran

At a recent conference in Geneva, the international community endorsed a "solutions strategy" for millions of Afghan refugees and those returning to Afghanistan after years in exile. The plan, drawn up between Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and UNHCR, aims to support repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host countries.

It will benefit refugee returnees to Afghanistan as well as 3 million Afghan refugees, including 1 million in Iran and 1.7 million in Pakistan.

Many of the refugees in Iran have been living there for more than three decades. This photo set captures the lives of some of these exiles, who wait in hope of a lasting solution to their situation.

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