Many refugee resettlement offices in the US provide insufficient sexual and reproductive health aid

<strong><a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelscottlong/">Michael Scott Long</a></strong>
Michael Scott Long

STEM Writer and Editor, Washington, United States, Email: mslong79@gmail.com

Sexual violence is common against girls and women in conflict zones and other hostile political environments. Accordingly, it would make sense for the US to provide sexual and reproductive health information and basic care for incoming refugees. Does the US provide such aid?

Tonya Katcher (Advocates for Youth, a nonprofit group in the US) and coworkers recently reported on the results of a 2018 survey of refugee resettlement offices throughout the US. Unfortunately, the offices seem to be falling short of meeting refugees’ sexual and reproductive health needs.

Katcher et al. report on a survey administered in mid-2018: 29 yes/no and multiple-choice questions. 100 out of the 236 contacted resettlement offices responded (e.g., executive directors and case managers), with a per-question response rate of 80% to 96%.

Only 41% of the offices offered workshops on sexual and reproductive health (the abstract of the article reports this value as 49%; by my reading of the manuscript, this is a typo). Although 52% reported on developing a partnership to meet this need, that’s still a low percentage.

Sexual and reproductive health services are nevertheless available locally. 90% of the offices indicated that they know of nearby clinics for sexual and reproductive health services, and 74% reported providing assistance with e.g. transportation to clinics.

Startlingly, only 15% of the offices gave pamphlets or other literature on sexual and reproductive health to refugees. Of the 73% of offices that indicated they are or may be receptive to expanding their offerings in sexual and reproductive health, 87% reported a need for corresponding written materials. Surely, a US agency can step up and meet this need, in appropriate languages?

I understand that meeting needs for e.g. housing, employment, and cultural awareness are all critical for incoming refugees. Nevertheless, in my view, neglecting sexual and reproductive health needs among an especially vulnerable group is a glaring oversight.

In my mind, the most substantial limitation of this study—as acknowledged by Katcher et al.—is that it relied on the employees of the refugee offices to report on their services. The perspectives of e.g. women refugees weren’t part of the study, and thus an appropriate comparison of perspectives isn’t possible.

Katcher et al. indicate that information, assessments, collaborations, and capacity-building are all means of addressing unmet sexual and reproductive health needs among incoming refugees to the US, which is admittedly difficult, given concurrent essential needs and the limited resources available.

I doubt the situation has improved since 2018. In my opinion, the US should do more. The funding and capacity to do so are available, given a bit of political will.

Reference: 

Katcher et al. Sexual and reproductive health information and referrals for resettled refugee women: A survey of resettlement agencies in the United States. PLoS Medicine, 2021, 18(5), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003579 (the manuscript is open access; free to read and download)

The International Rescue Committee provided assistance to Katcher et al.’s research.

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