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Improving health literacy in refugee populations

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We must ensure that people of refugee background have the confidence, support and resources to manage their health

Health literacy is defined as the degree to which an individual can obtain, communicate, process and understand basic health information and health services to make appropriate decisions about their health.1 Low health literacy is inextricably linked to poor health outcomes. Individuals with limited health literacy have higher rates of illness and more hospitalisations.2 Acquiring good health is a process that requires access to health care and health knowledge to inform positive health behaviour coupled with ongoing access to necessary resources.

The refugee experience is often characterised by displacement with limited access to services and basic necessities. For resettled refugees, low health literacy can be expected as they navigate a new country, language and culture. The stressors of cultural and language differences, and securing housing and employment may exacerbate trauma, leading people to feel isolated and helpless, with attendant symptoms of sleeplessness, poor concentration and emotional issues. The psychological effects of trauma may be long term and experienced intergenerationally.3 Many may have had disrupted education owing to protracted time in precarious living situations, so it cannot be assumed…