Health for All: Securing Reproductive and Sexual Health Care for Migrants

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On April 7th, World Health Day, the World Health Organization called for everyone everywhere to have access to universal health care using the hashtag, #HealthForAll. In today’s migrant crisis, ensuring safe and reliable access to sexual and reproductive health care is of utmost importance. This year, upwards of 65.6 million people, fleeing persecution, violence and war, have been forcibly displaced from their homes and communities (1). Migrants are particularly susceptible to health complications - experiencing increased violence, suboptimal living conditions, and disrupted access to health care. In particular, female migrants are exceptionally vulnerable, both during travel and after arrival.

Why are migrants at an increased risk of poor reproductive and sexual health? Without access to reproductive health services, migrants may not have the tools to prevent, delay or space their pregnancies and may resort to unsafe abortion, which can result in death or permanent disability of the mother. An estimated one in ten refugees travelling through Europe is pregnant and at risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes (2). In fact, in humanitarian crises, the maternal mortality ratio is nearly twice the global average (3). If a woman delivers while migrating, without access to skilled attendants or essential newborn care, she may experience obstructed labour, obstetric fistula, miscarriage, and maternal or foetal death. Once a migrant settles, whether in a refugee camp or a new home, she will likely face continued challenges. Refugees may not be entitled to health care in their host country or may not be able to access it due to unavailability of services, fear or stigma.

The refugee crisis is a topic that has garnered much international attention and debate. Guaranteeing access to reproductive health care services for migrants is an often overlooked but vital aspect of ensuring #healthforall. At SafeHands, we believe in and work towards a world where every pregnancy and birth is safe and everyone’s wellbeing and dignity is valued. 

Miriam Gladstone is an intern at SafeHands, having recently completed her MSc in Reproductive and Sexual Health Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine


1.     UNHCR Global Trends. Forced Displacement in 2016. UNHCR: Geneva, Switzerland. 2017, June.

2.     Ramrayka L. The Quiet Crisis of Europe’s Pregnant Refugees. Huffington Post. 2016.

3.     UNFPA. Majority of Maternal Deaths Take Place in Crises and Fragile Conditions. 2015, November.  UNFPA: New York City, USA.


Nancy Durell Mckenna