Overview: Medication dispensing for humanitarian entrants

There are several factors that can influence medication prescriptions in the humanitarian entrant population, and most of these are shared by other migrant groups. However, there are some factors that impact more on the prescription of medications for humanitarian entrants. One Australian study showed that refugees have more negative perceptions towards illness and that this impacts their attitudes towards medications (Shahin et al. 2020). Attitudes towards medication in humanitarian entrants may be influenced by education, employment and age (Shahin et al. 2020).

The types of medication prescribed to humanitarian entrants may be related to socio-cultural and economic-ecological factors in their country of birth or country of asylum. For example, Syrian refugees living in Jordan were found to have high prevalence of hypertension and type 2 diabetes and disrupted access to care (Rehr et al. 2018). As a result, they may be more likely to have higher rates of prescribed medications for these conditions than the rest of the Australian population. 

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is an Australian Government program that subsidises the cost of a wide range of medicines in Australia. The medication dispensing data in this report covers medications which are dispensed on the PBS and does not include medications dispensed to admitted patients in public hospitals, private prescriptions and over-the-counter purchases. It also does not cover the Opiate Dependence Treatment Program prior to 1 July 2023. For further information on what is not captured by the PBS data presented in this report, see the Technical notes.

The data presented are for medications which have been dispensed, it does not provide information on prescriptions that were written but not filled by the person, or medication consumption. There is no measure of need in this analysis, therefore it cannot be assumed that the high or low rates reported are reflective of an over or underservicing of the population, nor can the prevalence of certain conditions be inferred from these data.

This section presents data on the patterns of medications dispensed under the PBS/ Repatriation Schedule of Pharmaceutical Benefits in 2021. Lockdowns and service disruptions may have affected the dispensing of PBS medications throughout this year. For information on the impact of COVID-19 on PBS prescriptions see Medicines in the health system.

Medicines are organised into Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical (ATC) classification groups according to the body system or organ on which they act. Medicines are classified on their main therapeutic use, even though a medication may be used for multiple important therapeutic uses. There are 5 levels of the ATC classification system ranging from ATC1, anatomical main subgroup, to ATC5, chemical substance. For further information on the ATC classification system see the Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical (ATC) Classification.

Data are presented on:

For information on methods and data sources used in this section see Data sources and methods and Technical notes.


Rehr M, Shoaib M, Ellithy S, Okour S, Ariti C, Ait-Bouziad I, van de Bosch P, Deprade A, Altarawneh M, Shafei A, Gabashneh S and Lenglet A (2018) Prevalence of non-communicable diseases and access to care among non-camp Syrian refugees in northern Jordan, Conflict and Health, 12 (33), doi:10.1186/s13031-018-0168-7.

Shahin W, Kennedy GA, Cockshaw W, and Stupans I (2020) The role of refugee and migrant migration status on medication adherence: Mediation through illness perceptions, PloS one, 15(1), e0227326, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0227326.