Introduction

Systemic barriers impacting migrant, refugee access to care amid deepening pandemic divides

Healthcare discrimination on the basis of citizenship, visa status, race, gender, disability and other intersectional factors is a global issue, magnified during the pandemic.

Systemic barriers impacting migrant, refugee access to care amid deepening pandemic divides

Excerpted from Croaky Health Media
Written by Edited by Amy Coopes
12 August 2021

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“My family’s situation is not unique. Healthcare discrimination on the basis of citizenship, visa status, race, gender, disability and other intersectional factors is a global issue, magnified during the pandemic.

Women’s health services I work with throughout Australia have been reporting the difficulties being faced by women on temporary visas, including working and student visas.

This is due to financial hardship, movement restrictions related to lockdowns, border closures, and a lack of access to in-language, accurate and timely information related to COVID-19.

They are working with women who are facing eviction, mounting debt (including medical debts), lack of access to childcare or income and increased rates of family violence.

Migrant and refugee women have experienced fear of persecution for movement when accessing abortion care, linked to overpolicing and police discrimination.

The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health has long been advocating for equitable health access for migrant and refugee health equity, including advocacy for women on temporary visas.

This month they launched two publications, the 2021 Sexual and Reproductive Health Data Report with an accompanying paper called Act Now.

Despite the lack of data on migrant and refugee women’s sexual and reproductive health, the 2021 Sexual and Reproductive Health Data Report shows that compared to Australian-born, non-Indigenous women, migrant and refugee women:

  • Are less likely to have access to evidence-based and culturally relevant information which will enable them to manage their own fertility, contraceptive choices and menstrual health.
  • Participate less in preventative health service access, for example, migrant and refugee women have lower screening rates for breast and cervical screening.
  • Are at greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted condition such as HIV or hepatitis B.
  • Tend to access antenatal care later, and experience higher rates of stillbirth.
  • Are at higher risk of experiencing pregnancy-related conditions such as preeclampsia and gestational diabetes.
  • Are more likely to experience perinatal mental health conditions, often linked to social isolation and socioeconomic or financial insecurity, compounded by migration-related stressors.
  • Are more likely to experience barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion care.

Despite some national investment in supporting women on temporary visas who are experiencing violence, it’s not enough. Investment in migrant and refugee women’s health will not only ensure better health outcomes, it will prevent violence and increase gender equity.

State and territory action for equitable health access is urgently called for, as is Federal action to prevent precarious financial situations, for both women on temporary visas and for migrant and refugee women’s health services.”

Bonney Corbin is the Chair of the Australian Women’s Health Network and Head of Policy at Marie Stopes Australia

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