Health status and disease burden of unaccompanied asylum-seeking adolescents in Bielefeld, Germany: cross-sectional pilot study

Trop Med Int Health. 2016 Feb;21(2):210-8. doi: 10.1111/tmi.12649. Epub 2015 Dec 22.


Objective: This exploratory pilot study aimed to investigate the physical and mental disease burden of unaccompanied asylum-seeking adolescents arriving in Bielefeld, a medium-size city in Germany.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey with purposive sampling of 102 unaccompanied asylum-seeking adolescents aged 12-18 years was performed. Information on general health status, selected infectious and non-communicable diseases, iron deficiency anaemia and mental illness was collected during routine check-up medical examinations upon arrival in Bielefeld, Germany. The data were analysed using descriptive statistics.

Results: The analysis revealed a complex disease burden with a high prevalence of infections (58.8%), mental illness (13.7%) and iron deficiency anaemia (17.6%) and a very low prevalence of non-communicable diseases (<2.0%). One in five of the refugees were infected with parasites. Whilst sub-Saharan Africans showed the highest prevalence of infections (86.7%), including highest prevalences of parasites (46.7%), West Asians had the highest prevalence of mental disorders (20.0%). Overall, the disease burden in females was higher.

Conclusion: A thorough medical and psychological screening after arrival is highly recommended to reduce the individual disease burden and the risk of infection for others. This promotes good physical and mental health, which is needed for successful integration into the receiving society. Barriers to health service access for unaccompanied asylum-seeking adolescents need to be lowered to allow need-specific health care and prevention.

Keywords: adolescentes no acompañados buscando asilo; demandeurs d'asile adolescents non accompagnés; immigrant health; infecciones en refugiados; infections chez les réfugiés; infections in refugees; menores refugiados; mental health; physical health; refugee minors; réfugiés enfants; salud del inmigrante; salud física; salud mental; santé des immigrants; santé mentale; santé physique; unaccompanied asylum-seeking adolescents.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Africa South of the Sahara / ethnology
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / epidemiology*
  • Asia, Western / ethnology
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Infections / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Parasitic Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prevalence
  • Refugees*
  • Sex Factors