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A retrospective study of demographic parameters and major health referrals among Afghan refugees in Iran

Salman Otoukesh1*, Mona Mojtahedzadeh1, Dean Sherzai2, Arash Behazin3, Shahrzad Bazargan-Hejazi4 and Mohsen Bazargan5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Research, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and science, 1731 E. 120th street, Bldg. N, Los Angeles, CA 90059, USA

2 Department of Neurology, Loma Linda University, 11370 Anderson Street, Loma Linda, CA, 92350, USA

3 UNHCR, Department of Field Unit, No 3, East Emdad St, Mollasadra Ave, Tehran, 19917, Iran

4 Department of Medical Education Program, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and science, 1731 E. 120th street, Los Angeles, CA, 90059, USA

5 Department of Research, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and science, 1731 E. 120th street, Bldg. N, Los Angeles, CA, 90059, USA

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International Journal for Equity in Health 2012, 11:82  doi:10.1186/1475-9276-11-82

Published: 20 December 2012



For nearly three decades, the two neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan hosted millions of Afghans. Today, Afghans still represent the largest group of refugees in the world. This feature has greatly influenced provision of health care for this population. Due to a paucity of research on the health status of Afghan refugees in Iran, this study aim to make a vista on the pattern of different common diseases among Afghan refugees in Iran and use it as an index for performance evaluation of future health services to them.


This is a retrospective cross sectional study, in which we collected the demographic and medical data between 2005 and 2010 from referrals to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Iran. We also considered a comparative review of the burden of disease estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) for Afghanistan and Iran.


Total numbers of referrals were 23,152 with 52.6% Female and 47.66% male. 29% were 0–14 years of age, 54% were 15–59, and 17% were 60+. The most common health referral for females and males (0–14) was perinatal diseases (15.16%, 15.2%, respectively). In the females (15–59) it was ophthalmic diseases (13.65%), and for males it was nephropathies (21.4%), and in both sexes (60+) age range it was ophthalmic diseases (21.3%, 19.9%, respectively). The largest ethnic group of afghan refugees in this study was Hazara (55%) followed by Tajik (14%), Fars (12%), Sadat (9%), and 10% others. Ophthalmic diseases were the major cause of referrals by Hazara, Tajik, Fars, and Sadat groups with 26%, 20%, 26%, and 27% respectively. Referrals by pashtun group were mostly for neoplasms (17%), among Uzbek group it was nephropathies (26%), and in Baluch group Hematopoietic disorders (25%).


These data indicate higher referral rate for women 15–59 years of old and people in 60+ with ophthalmic diseases, neoplasms, and nephropathies. Even given certain intrinsic limitations of such a study, we believe these unique findings are worth further explanation. This implies the need for public health researchers to pursue prospective studies in these areas.

Refugee; Health status; Ethnicity