Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
REVIEW

The physical health status, service utilisation and barriers to accessing care for asylum seekers residing in the community: a systematic review of the literature

Emily J. Hadgkiss A D and Andre M. N. Renzaho B C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Emergency Practice Innovation Centre, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, PO Box 2900, Fitzroy, Vic. 3065, Australia.

B Migration, Social Disadvantage, and Health Programs, Global Health and Society Unit, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Level 3, Burnet Building, 89 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Vic. 3004, Australia.

C Centre for International Health, Burnet Institute, Level 3, Burnet Building, 89 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Vic. 3004, Australia. Email: andre.renzaho@monash.edu

D Corresponding author. Email: emily.hadgkiss@svhm.org.au

Australian Health Review 38(2) 142-159 https://doi.org/10.1071/AH13113
Submitted: 2 June 2013  Accepted: 29 December 2013   Published: 31 March 2014

Abstract

Objective To document physical health problems that asylum seekers experience on settlement in the community and to assess their utilisation of healthcare services and barriers to care, in an international context.

Methods A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies was undertaken according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Embase and CINAHL databases were searched from 2002 to October 2012, focusing on adult asylum seekers residing in the community in high-income countries.

Results The search yielded 1499 articles, of which 32 studies met the inclusion criteria – 23 quantitative and nine qualitative. Asylum seekers had complex health profiles spanning a range of infectious diseases, chronic non-communicable conditions, and reproductive-health issues. They appeared to utilise health services at a higher rate than the host population, yet faced significant barriers to care.

Conclusion The findings of this study highlight the health inequities faced by asylum seekers residing in the communities of host countries, internationally. National data on asylum seekers’ health profiles, service utilisation and barriers to care, as well as cross-country policy comparisons, are urgently required for the development of effective Australian health programs and evidence-based policy.

What is known about the topic? The clinical and political focus of asylum seekers’ health has largely been on the higher incidence of mental disorders and the impact of immigration detention. Since policy changes made in late 2011, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been permitted to live in the community while their claims are processed. There is a paucity of research exploring the physical health needs of asylum seekers residing in the community.

What does this paper add? The international literature highlights the complexity of asylum seekers’ health profiles. Although they appear to utilise health services at a higher rate than the host population, they continue to face many barriers to care.

What are the implications for practitioners? Studies that explore policy options, including cross-country comparisons of health policy and guidelines that improve health outcomes, to foster equity of access and reduce health inequalities between asylum seekers and the host population are urgently required.

Additional keywords: community, healthcare utilisation, physical health.


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