The associations between women who are immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers, access to universal healthcare, and the timely uptake of antenatal care: A systematic review

Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2022 Dec 8. doi: 10.1111/ajo.13632. Online ahead of print.


Background: The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that antenatal care (ANC) commence before 12 weeks' gestation to reduce the risk of obstetric and perinatal complications. Immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are at higher risk for late or non-initiation of ANC, and exclusion from universal healthcare (UHC) may be a contributing factor.

Aims: The aims were to synthesise evidence regarding uptake of ANC and to examine if this is associated with inadequate access to UHC and to evaluate the link between ANC and the risk of pregnancy outcomes in the immigrant, refugee and asylum seeker population.

Methods: The review was performed according to meta-analysis of observational studies in epidemiology (MOOSE) guidelines. Five databases were systematically searched. Abstracts were screened against inclusion criteria, and eligible papers underwent data extraction by two independent reviewers per paper. The ROBINS-I tool was used to assess risk of bias.

Results: Twelve studies were included in the final review. All studies reported that ANC was delayed for women who were classified as immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers as per the WHO recommendations, and this was statistically significant compared to controls in 11 of 12 studies (P < 0.05). Findings regarding ANC uptake and pregnancy complications were too heterogeneous to conclusively report an association.

Conclusion: Immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers who are excluded from UHC present significantly later to ANC than receiving-country-born women with full access to UHC. The link between delayed ANC due to inadequate UHC access and pregnancy complications remains unclear due to the heterogeneous nature of the studies.

Keywords: antenatal care; immigrant; maternal health; refugee; universal healthcare.

Publication types

  • Review