Maternal health and pregnancy outcomes among women of refugee background from African countries: a retrospective, observational study in Australia Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Women of refugee background from Africa are reported to have a greater risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes compared to women born in resettlement countries. However, there is currently little insight into whether adverse pregnancy outcomes are more common among migrant women of refugee background, compared to women who have migrated for non-humanitarian reasons. To inform whether women of refugee background require additional services in pregnancy compared to non-refugee migrant women from similar world regions we aimed to describe and compare maternal health, pregnancy care attendance and pregnancy outcomes among migrant women from Africa with or without a refugee background. METHODS: Retrospective, observational study of singleton births at a single, metropolitan, maternity service in Australia 2002-2011, to women born in humanitarian source countries (HSC) and non-HSC from North Africa (n = 1361), Middle and East Africa (n = 706) and West Africa (n = 106). RESULTS: Compared to non-HSC groups, age < 20 years (0-1.4% vs 2.3-13.3%), living in relatively socio-economically disadvantaged geographic areas (26.2-37.3% vs 52.9-77.8%) and interpreter need (0-23.9% vs 9.7-51.5%) were generally more common in the HSC groups. Compared to non-HSC groups, female genital mutilation (0.3-3.3% vs 5.1-13.8%), vitamin D insufficiency (8.7-21.5% vs 23.3-32.0%), syphilis (0-0.3% vs 1.2-7.5%) and hepatitis B (0-1.1% vs 1.2-18%) were also generally more common among the HSC groups. Unplanned birth before arrival at the hospital (3.6%) was particularly high in the North African HSC group. HSC-birth was associated with gestational diabetes mellitus (odds ratio = 3.5, 95% confidence interval: 1.8-7.1) among women from Middle and East Africa, after adjusting for maternal age, parity, body mass index and relative socio-economic disadvantage of area of residence. The West African HSC group had the highest stillbirth incidence (4.4%). CONCLUSIONS: Migrant women of refugee background from different African regions appear to be at greater risk of specific adverse pregnancy outcomes compared to migrant women without a refugee background. Awareness of differing risks and health needs would assist provision of appropriate pregnancy care to improve the health of African women and their babies.


  • Gibson-Helm, Melanie
  • Teede, Helena
  • Block, Andrew
  • Knight, Michelle
  • East, Christine
  • Wallace, Euan M
  • Boyle, Jacqueline

publication date

  • 2014