Identification of optimal thalassemia screening strategies for migrant populations in Thailand using a qualitative approach

BMC Public Health. 2021 Oct 6;21(1):1796. doi: 10.1186/s12889-021-11831-4.


Background: Thalassemia is a common inherited hemoglobin disorder in Southeast Asia. Severe thalassemia can lead to significant morbidity for patients and economic strain for under-resourced health systems. Thailand's thalassemia prevention and control program has successfully utilized prenatal screening and diagnosis to reduce the incidence of severe thalassemia in Thai populations, but migrant populations are excluded despite having high thalassemia prevalence. We sought to identify key barriers to and facilitators of thalassemia screening and to develop tailored recommendations for providing migrants with access to thalassemia prevention and control.

Methods: We conducted 28 in-depth interviews and 4 focus group discussions (FGDs) in Chonburi, Thailand with Myanmar and Cambodian migrants, Thai healthcare providers, Thai parents of children affected by thalassemia, and migrant agents.

Results: Participant narratives revealed that migrants' lack of knowledge about the prevalence, manifestations, severity, and inherited nature of thalassemia led to misconceptions, fear, or indifference toward thalassemia and screening. Negative perceptions of pregnancy termination were based in religious beliefs but compounded by other sociocultural factors, presenting a key obstacle to migrant uptake of prenatal screening. Additionally, structural barriers included legal status, competing work demands, lack of health insurance, and language barriers. Participants recommended delivering public thalassemia education in migrants' native languages, implementing carrier screening, and offering thalassemia screening in convenient settings.

Conclusions: An effective thalassemia prevention and control program should offer migrants targeted thalassemia education and outreach, universal coverage for thalassemia screening and prenatal care, and options for carrier screening, providing a comprehensive strategy for reducing the incidence of severe thalassemia in Thailand and establishing an inclusive model for regional thalassemia prevention and control.

Keywords: Barriers to care; Genetic testing; Healthcare access; Migrants; Migration policy; Prenatal screening; Southeast Asia; Termination of pregnancy; Thailand; Thalassemia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Thailand
  • Transients and Migrants*
  • Universal Health Insurance