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01.09.2012 | original article | Ausgabe 17-18/2012

Wiener klinische Wochenschrift 17-18/2012

Acute health problems in African refugees

Ten years’ experience in a Swiss emergency department

Wiener klinische Wochenschrift > Ausgabe 17-18/2012
Carmen A. Pfortmueller, Fabienne Graf, Malek Tabarra, Gregor Lindner, Heinz Zimmermann, M.D. F.C.E.M. Aristomenis K. Exadaktylos
Wichtige Hinweise
An erratum to this article can be found at http://​dx.​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00508-013-0410-7.



Over the last two decades, the total number of applications from Africans for asylum in the countries of the European Union has increased from 578,000 to more than 2.9 million. About 20 % (7,196/36,100) of the asylum seekers in Switzerland originate from Africa. The disease profile of African asylum seekers is remarkably different from that of the native population in the country of application. We have therefore conducted an analysis of African asylum seekers presenting themselves to our emergency department.


In a retrospective analysis, the central patient registry database was searched for patients originating from Africa admitted from 1 January 2000 to 30 November 2011 and labelled as “Asylbewerber” (asylum seeker) or “Flüchtling” (refugee).


Three thousand six hundred and seventy-five African asylum seekers were admitted to our emergency department between 2000 and 2010. Thirty-four percent (n = 1,247) were female and 66 % (n = 2,426) male. Eighty percent (n = 1,940) of the men and 70 % (n = 823) of the women were younger than 40 years. Most of our patients originated from Algeria (n = 612). Forty-five percent (n = 1,628) of all patients presented with internal medical problems, 40 % (n = 1,487) with injuries. 3.5 % (n = 130) of all patients presented with psychiatric problems. Admission for psychiatric problems increased steadily from 2 % (n = 4) in 2001 to 10 % (n = 35) in 2011.


The causes of presentation are manifold, including internal medical problems and injuries. Admissions for psychiatric problems are increasing. Establishing simple screening scores for somatization should be a key priority in providing more focused treatment in emergency departments.

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