Migration is no women’s health refuge

Worldwide, the health of refugee women is in jeopardy. Conflict and dislocation disproportionately affect women, who already experience proportionately greater challenges in accessing health services for themselves.

Refugee women’s health care is still focussed on an antiquated view of women as child bearers and rearers.

Most of the health problems of displaced women are intertwined with the refugee experience and so not easily resolved by a hospital visit. Rape, sexual abuse, inadequate childbirth care and the psychological impact of long separation from families are well described.

Several refugee programs such as the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) are designed to build “comprehensive reproductive health care” and address how to prevent illness among women, newborns, and girls. It is no wonder that these programs have variable success.

Even innovative prevention programs, such as the Building Bridges program in Texas, focus mainly on cancers of the reproductive system.

As long as the care of refugee women is still focussed on an antiquated view of women as child bearers and rearers, many other health problems never get to surface. Chronic diseases are rarely mentioned in the literature describing the problems of these refugees and yet women suffer from many chronic diseases at the same rates as men. Women outpace men in the contraction of other chronic conditions, such as Vitamin D deficiency, certain communicable diseases, occupational health hazards, and injuries.

Whole body care needs to start at the first contact with refugee women. For example, first line health carers such disaster nurses have an important role to promote a broader concept of health security among women refugees.

Without that, refugee women sink even lower than their local counterparts into the jeopardies that still plague women’s health, for example, the resurgence of the debate about termination of pregnancy. Sadly, while our bodies are still not our own, the state of health care is even more dire for women refugees.

2 thoughts on “Migration is no women’s health refuge

  1. This view is not my experience having been the senior clinician in the main health facility in Kutupalong refugee camp, serving 750,000 Rohingya in the latter half of 2017, working with MSF. I’m coming to London tomorrow, are you free in the afternoon/evening? We can chat more about it.


  2. You make excellent points. The Canadian Academy of health Sciences will hold our Annual Forum in September 2019 on Migrant Health. I will make sure to ask questions about broader issues in women’s health.


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