Health needs and services for refugee women and children in Uganda’s settlements: articulating a role for social work
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date19/12/2020
Approximately 70.8 million individuals are displaced worldwide and of these 25.9 million are refugees (UNHCR, 2019). According to UNHCR (2018), 85% of the world’s refugees are hosted by low-income nations such as Uganda. Presently, the country faces Africa’s highest refugee crisis in years (ibid). The scale of the problem is growing rapidly, with refugee numbers increasing from half a million in 2016 to 1.36 million in 2019 making it the third-highest refugee-hosting country in the world (ibid). Most of the refugees in the country are women and children (IRC, 2014). While the country recently shot to prominence with regards to refugee settlement and management, it is confronted with the subsequent protection and assistance demands (Mwenyango and Palattiyil, 2019). Refugees have the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Health, however, is influenced by individual behaviour, social-cultural factors and other social determinants including the migration process and status (WHO, 2018). The conditions experienced before, during transit and in host destinations create and increase vulnerability for poor health outcomes (ibid). Women and children on the move are exceptionally vulnerable to inequities that operate through exploitation and abuse (Freedman, 2019; Alsaba and Kapilashrami, 2016; IOM, 2014; Papadopoulos; 2008; Berends, 2017). Social work is a distinct profession that alleviates suffering and deprivation of individuals and groups, due to its professional values of respect for human rights, social justice and care (IFSW, 2012). This study sought to examine the health needs and services for refugee women and children in the Nakivale refugee settlement (NRS) Uganda and enunciated the role of social work in responding to such needs. I specifically examined: (a) the public health needs, vulnerabilities and experiences of refugee women and children (b) accessible health services and (c) barriers to accessing and utilising health services for this group. All three were united by the overarching goal of interrogating social work’s role in health promotion. The study used mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative). I administered a survey of 377 refugee women and 69 in-depth interviews (refugee women and men and key informants). The findings indicate that the Government of Uganda and its partners in refugee work are trying to support refugees to overcome the devastating conditions. However, there are outstanding gaps/ barriers (individual, socio-cultural and structural) to access and utilisation of health services. Women and children continue to live in vulnerable conditions. The study reveals a necessity for social work in settlements and provides recommendations for improving health services. The need to improve refugees’ access to health care is urgent because it impacts their worth and dignity and is essential for the country’s development (UNDP, 2016).