Morbidity and mortality in homeless individuals, prisoners, sex workers, and individuals with substance use disorders in high-income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Lancet. 2018 Jan 20;391(10117):241-250. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)31869-X. Epub 2017 Nov 12.


Background: Inclusion health focuses on people in extremely poor health due to poverty, marginalisation, and multimorbidity. We aimed to review morbidity and mortality data on four overlapping populations who experience considerable social exclusion: homeless populations, individuals with substance use disorders, sex workers, and imprisoned individuals.

Methods: For this systematic review and meta-analysis, we searched MEDLINE, Embase, and the Cochrane Library for studies published between Jan 1, 2005, and Oct 1, 2015. We included only systematic reviews, meta-analyses, interventional studies, and observational studies that had morbidity and mortality outcomes, were published in English, from high-income countries, and were done in populations with a history of homelessness, imprisonment, sex work, or substance use disorder (excluding cannabis and alcohol use). Studies with only perinatal outcomes and studies of individuals with a specific health condition or those recruited from intensive care or high dependency hospital units were excluded. We screened studies using systematic review software and extracted data from published reports. Primary outcomes were measures of morbidity (prevalence or incidence) and mortality (standardised mortality ratios [SMRs] and mortality rates). Summary estimates were calculated using a random effects model.

Findings: Our search identified 7946 articles, of which 337 studies were included for analysis. All-cause standardised mortality ratios were significantly increased in 91 (99%) of 92 extracted datapoints and were 11·86 (95% CI 10·42-13·30; I2=94·1%) in female individuals and 7·88 (7·03-8·74; I2=99·1%) in men. Summary SMR estimates for the International Classification of Diseases disease categories with two or more included datapoints were highest for deaths due to injury, poisoning, and other external causes, in both men (7·89; 95% CI 6·40-9·37; I2=98·1%) and women (18·72; 13·73-23·71; I2=91·5%). Disease prevalence was consistently raised across the following categories: infections (eg, highest reported was 90% for hepatitis C, 67 [65%] of 103 individuals for hepatitis B, and 133 [51%] of 263 individuals for latent tuberculosis infection), mental health (eg, highest reported was 9 [4%] of 227 individuals for schizophrenia), cardiovascular conditions (eg, highest reported was 32 [13%] of 247 individuals for coronary heart disease), and respiratory conditions (eg, highest reported was 9 [26%] of 35 individuals for asthma).

Interpretation: Our study shows that homeless populations, individuals with substance use disorders, sex workers, and imprisoned individuals experience extreme health inequities across a wide range of health conditions, with the relative effect of exclusion being greater in female individuals than male individuals. The high heterogeneity between studies should be explored further using improved data collection in population subgroups. The extreme health inequity identified demands intensive cross-sectoral policy and service action to prevent exclusion and improve health outcomes in individuals who are already marginalised.

Funding: Wellcome Trust, National Institute for Health Research, NHS England, NHS Research Scotland Scottish Senior Clinical Fellowship, Medical Research Council, Chief Scientist Office, and the Central and North West London NHS Trust.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Developed Countries
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Ill-Housed Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Workers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Social Marginalization
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*