More than 685,655 refugees and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders have settled in the United States since 2010.1 Over half of this highly vulnerable population are women and girls of reproductive age – and they are not getting their obstetric and reproductive healthcare (RH) needs met. This includes a lack of or limited care during and after pregnancies and miscarriages. This also includes a lack of or limited access to abortion care and contraception.2 In addition, refugee women and girls have an increased risk of sexual violence, trafficking, and other gender-based trauma.3
RH access and utilization are known to have improved individuals’ long-term physical and mental wellbeing.4 In the case of recently resettled refugee women and girls, there are often delays in service utilization due to socioeconomic pressures, cultural differences, language barriers, unfamiliarity with preventive care and the U.S. healthcare system, and inadequate system navigation skills.5,6 Knowledge about sexual and RH services, as well as access to adequate care, have the power to improve the lives of these vulnerable and underserved women and girls.
The University of California, Irvine, and other University of California campuses created the Refugee Reproductive Health Network (ReproNet) in 2019 to engage in dialogue with refugee women and communities, and to increase awareness on refugee RH issues. In addition to well-woman care, ReproNet also includes information on male reproductive health; this is purposefully done to align with the traditional and strong intra-family interdependence of many refugee cultures.
ReproNet created opportunities and practical approaches to include RH information into existing cultural orientation and integration services that health care providers, resettlement agencies, mosques, community-based organizations, and school and community-college based English as a Second or Other Language (ESOL) programs offered. These unique local partnerships explored interventions and engaged female refugees in environments where they felt safe and secure in discussing intimate and sensitive issues. Adapting to the social distancing measures that the COVID-19 pandemic imposed, in 2020 ReproNet increasingly began to rely on technology to communicate with women after assessing the readiness of refugee communities for virtual engagement.7
ReproNet, University of California, Irvine
Principal Investigator Heike Thiel de Bocanegra, PHD, MPH
Adjunct Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology
ReproNet regularly hosts women’s health sessions in California. In collaboration with local refugee communities, ReproNet has cultivated profound relationships to engage in meaningful conversations with refugee women about their reproductive health preferences over the past four years.
The Refugee Reproductive Health Network (ReproNet) received funding from the Patient Outcome Research Institute 14471-UCI-IC , the National Library of Medicine G08 LM014109, and private donations.