Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Reproductive Health Education and Services Needs of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees Following Disaster

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Reproductive Health Education and Services Needs of Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees Following Disaster

Article excerpt


Background: Following the occurrence of natural or manmade disaster, relief worker priorities include providing water, food, shelter, and immunizations for displaced persons. Like these essential initiatives, reproductive health education and services must also be incorporated into recovery efforts. Purpose: This study examined reproductive health care indicators, including the key areas of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmission, family planning and pregnancy-related health services, and selected reproductive health education knowledge among refugees and internally displaced persons residing in southern Belize following Hurricane Mitch's assault on the region in 1998. In addition, the occurrence of gender-based violence was measured. Methods: Internally displaced persons and refugee men and women were interviewed about prenatal care and delivery services, family planning knowledge and utilization, HIV/AIDS and other STI transmission knowledge, and sexual violence. Results: Numerous misconceptions about HIV/AIDS and other STIs existed. Most persons had never used any family planning method. Oral contraceptive use declined as length of stay at refugee camps increased. Most women were able to access prenatal services. Violence against women, including sexual violence, was reported. Discussion: Better access to medical services and education about reproductive health issues are needed following disasters. Translation to Health Education Practice: Health educators can contribute to relief efforts. Moreover, other relief workers should be equipped with skills and knowledge to help meet the reproductive health needs of disaster victims.


Life for internally displaced persons (IDPs) following a natural disaster, or for persons in a refugee camp after a manmade calamity, can be filled with uncertainty, fear, chaos, and frequent change. From basic living conditions and environments to decision-making authority, virtually nothing remains the same in the overwhelming setting of camp life. Such times are trying for families as they begin to rebuild homes and social structures and regain a semblance of their former life. With the lack of food and potable water being a reality, the greatest fear for some individuals is being unable to feed and care for their children. Because there may not be adequate energy, time, or other resources to care for additional children, family planning is an essential service for the care and sustainability of IDPs and refugees worldwide.

When the immediate threat of a disaster subsides, the first priorities in the emergency phase of recovery tend to include providing safe water, food, and shelter; preventing and controlling communicable diseases and epidemics; and ensuring proper site planning and access to health care. In a typical post-disaster environment, an initial assessment of the population is conducted to determine its urgent needs, (1) with water and sanitation usually emerging as key issues for relief workers. Often, the health status of people migrating or transferring to camps or other safe surroundings becomes compromised. Therefore, the main objective of health care in the initial phase of recovery is to reduce mortality and morbidity among the displaced population. (2)

Often absent from this array of necessary services is reproductive health education and care. In the quest to ensure that resources are not diverted from efforts to minimize morbidity and mortality, the importance of issues associated with reproductive health can be overlooked. Nevertheless, components of reproductive health care should be incorporated into recovery efforts during the earliest possible stage. (3) Until recently however, there has been a lack of focus on the reproductive health of displaced populations. Poor reproductive health is a significant cause of death and disease among IDPs and refugees, but lack of services is not an uncommon circumstance. …

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