Thursday, 29 January 2004

Questions (122)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

119 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the advice his Department has received from the World Health Organisation in relation to the screening of refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and or other groups for communicable diseases; the policy adopted by his Department in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2570/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

No specific policy advice was issued by WHO to Ireland in respect of immigrant groups and screening for communicable diseases. Irish policy in this regard is informed with reference to WHO and EU advice generally in respect of communicable diseases, particularly in respect of global TB and HIV control. Policy is formulated on the basis that asylum seekers have the same right to medical treatment as the rest of the population and within the ethical guidelines for medical practice set out by the Medical Council. Screening policy is based on an epidemiological assessment of the communicable disease risks which affect these populations in particular and international best practice in the diagnosis, management and control of these diseases.

Currently the position in relation to screening is that screening in respect of specific infectious diseases is offered to asylum seekers on a voluntary and confidential basis, free of charge, shortly after their arrival in this country. The purpose of screening is to detect and treat certain infectious diseases in the interest of the asylum seekers themselves and their families, as well as the community in general.

The approach adopted in relation to communicable disease screening for asylum seekers is reviewed on an ongoing basis by a group representative of the directors of public health and the Department of Health and Children. The current guidelines produced by this group in relation to infectious diseases screening recommend screening for TB and hepatitis and, where appropriate for HIV, polio and varicella zoster, chicken pox. The guidelines do not preclude other investigations deemed necessary on clinical or public health grounds.

Operational responsibility for health screening for asylum seekers lies with the individual health boards, which have appropriate regional and local management structures in place to manage delivery of the health screening programme.