Why don’t the Somali Refugee Community Access Sexual Health Services

A new project funded by STIRF (STIRF-027) has just been completed.  

Background: In the United Kingdom there is an established and growing refugee population from Somalia. Despite this Somalis have remained absent from much of the official statistics largely because ‘Somali’ is rarely recognised as a distinct ethnic category. Little is known about the sexual health needs of this particular community but in terms of their broader health issues, Somalis are known to have a high level of need but low uptake of health care services (Carswell et al.2011).

Aims: Through the use of focus groups and individual interviews this study sought to explore the sexual health needs of the local Somali community by ascertaining from their perspective, what they know about sexual health services, the challenges that may prevent them taking up these services and how services could be adapted to best meet their needs.

Results: The study showed little knowledge of services, especially about sexual health, how to accessing services, issues relating to shame, stigma and taboo, the influence of gender, religious and cultural norms, the perceptions of young people, the language barrier lack of cultural awareness and sensitivity demonstrated by healthcare professionals.

Recommendations:

  • Urgent attention be given to raising awareness, amongst the Somali community, about local sexual health services and how they can be accessed.
  • Information about sexual health services be made available in a format that is accessible to the Somali refugee community, for example, via a CD, DVD or USB stick.
  • That public health professionals and health care practitioners make clear the concept of preventative screening, making explicit the value of screening and early diagnosis for infectious diseases including TB and HIV/AIDS.
  • Health practitioners and public health professionals exercise extreme sensitivity when discussing issues related to sexual health and well-being. Every effort must be made to gain the trust of the individual so that they are able to discuss their fears or concerns.
  • Public health professionals and health care practitioners receive appropriate training and education so that they are equipped with the necessary cultural understanding and skills when working with the Somali community.
  • That a proactive approach be taken to helping Somali refugees to attend a programme of induction that includes language classes.
  • That a register of trained interpreters, who understand medical terminology and who are trained to work with those who may have experienced rape and torture should be available for public health professionals and health practitioners. Telephone interpretation should also be made available during consultations.

The results of the study have been presented in international meetings and published in reputable international journals.

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