'If I'm not sick, I'm not going to see the doctor': Access to preventive sexual and reproductive health care for Karen women from refugee backgrounds living in Melbourne, Australia-A qualitative study

Health Promot J Austr. 2024 Feb 7. doi: 10.1002/hpja.844. Online ahead of print.


Issue addressed: Women from refugee backgrounds have poorer health outcomes than host country populations. People from Myanmar, most of whom are from the Karen ethnic minority constitute one of the largest groups of humanitarian visa entrants to Australia since 2015. Barriers to and enablers of preventive sexual and reproductive health (SRH) for this group of women are poorly understood. The objective is to establish the preventive SRH care needs and experiences of Karen women from refugee backgrounds living in Australia.

Methods: A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews was conducted with a purposive sample of Karen women. A bi-cultural worker assisted in recruitment and interpreting during data collection. All interviews were conducted in Karen language with a bi-cultural worker interpreting into English during the interview. Audio recordings of English dialogue were transcribed verbatim. Thematic analysis was used to analyse and report data.

Results: Thirteen women were interviewed. Five major themes were identified: (1) prevention awareness including lack of access to education and knowledge of services pre-arrival; appreciation of the new health system; limited vaccination knowledge, (2) perceived need for prevention including consequences of not screening; health care provider (HCP) attendance, (3) health information seeking including providing a comprehensive approach to information delivery; trusted sources of information, (4) barriers including missed opportunities; communication, language, illiteracy; lack of continuity of care and, (5) enablers including HCP' characteristics; peer support and individual responsibility.

Conclusion: Findings from this study indicate that to improve access to preventive SRH services a multi-component strategy is needed. Provision of preventive SRH information using a multi-pronged approach; peer and community support interventions; and HCPs offering services and information opportunistically would benefit Karen women unfamiliar with preventive SRH care. SO WHAT?: Primary prevention services and education codesigned with community members may be effective in improving Karen women's access to SRH care.

Keywords: Karen; health literacy; prevention; qualitative; refugee women; sexual and reproductive health.