Health status of rescued people by the NGO Open Arms in response to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea

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Guillermo Cañardo, Jesús Gálvez, Juanfe Jiménez, Núria Serre, Israel Molina & Cristina Bocanegra

Conflict and Health volume 14, Article number: 21 (2020)


The migration over the Mediterranean has become one of the deadliest sea voyages in last few years. The NGO Open Arms works in the area since 2015, with the objectives of protecting and reporting human rights at sea. This paper aims to give an overview on characteristics and health conditions of rescued people by the NGO in the Central Mediterranean.


A descriptive retrospective population study was conducted, including people who were rescued from distress at sea by the NGO Open Arms from 1st July 2016 to 31st December 2018.


In this period of time 22,234 people were rescued from sea. Among them 2234 (22.7%) were minors, and 177 (0.8%) pregnant women. The most frequent countries of origin were Nigeria (1278–13.1%), Eritrea (1215–12.3%) and Bangladesh (981–9.9%). Among all people rescued, 4516 (20.3%) reported symptoms. Scabies was the most frequent pathology, being suspected in 1817 (8.2%) people. Other infectious diseases were diagnosed in 91 (0.4%). Thirty-five (0.16%) patients suffered some complication from their chronic diseases. Acute injuries due to trauma, burns, aggressions, and bullet or bladed weapon wound were reported in 135 (0.6%) cases. Seventy-four corpses were recovered.


Main diagnoses on board were directly related to the precarious living conditions through migratory route, violence and complications of chronic diseases due to lack of care. The large number of people rescued highlights the catastrophic effect on migrants’ health of European policies, which overlap the desire to restrict migratory movements on the humanitarian and health issues. An integrated information system and a coordinated response are basic to improve the situation in the area.