The physical health status, service utilisation and barriers to accessing care for asylum seekers residing in the community: a systematic review of the literature

Aust Health Rev. 2014 May;38(2):142-59. doi: 10.1071/AH13113.


Objective: To document physical health problems that asylum seekers experience on settlement in the community and to assess their utilisation of healthcare services and barriers to care, in an international context.

Methods: A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies was undertaken according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Embase and CINAHL databases were searched from 2002 to October 2012, focusing on adult asylum seekers residing in the community in high-income countries.

Results: The search yielded 1499 articles, of which 32 studies met the inclusion criteria - 23 quantitative and nine qualitative. Asylum seekers had complex health profiles spanning a range of infectious diseases, chronic non-communicable conditions, and reproductive-health issues. They appeared to utilise health services at a higher rate than the host population, yet faced significant barriers to care.

Conclusion: The findings of this study highlight the health inequities faced by asylum seekers residing in the communities of host countries, internationally. National data on asylum seekers' health profiles, service utilisation and barriers to care, as well as cross-country policy comparisons, are urgently required for the development of effective Australian health programs and evidence-based policy. What is known about the topic? The clinical and political focus of asylum seekers' health has largely been on the higher incidence of mental disorders and the impact of immigration detention. Since policy changes made in late 2011, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been permitted to live in the community while their claims are processed. There is a paucity of research exploring the physical health needs of asylum seekers residing in the community. What does this paper add? The international literature highlights the complexity of asylum seekers' health profiles. Although they appear to utilise health services at a higher rate than the host population, they continue to face many barriers to care. What are the implications for practitioners? Studies that explore policy options, including cross-country comparisons of health policy and guidelines that improve health outcomes, to foster equity of access and reduce health inequalities between asylum seekers and the host population are urgently required.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Bibliographic
  • Health Services / economics
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Refugees / statistics & numerical data*