Reproductive health and quality of life of young Burmese refugees in Thailand.
Benner MT., Townsend J., Kaloi W., Htwe K., Naranichakul N., Hunnangkul S., Carrara VI., Sondorp E.
BackgroundOf the 140,000 Burmese* refugees living in camps in Thailand, 30% are youths aged 15-24. Health services in these camps do not specifically target young people and their problems and needs are poorly understood. This study aimed to assess their reproductive health issues and quality of life, and identifies appropriate service needs.MethodsWe used a stratified two-stage random sample questionnaire survey of 397 young people 15-24 years from 5,183 households, and 19 semi-structured qualitative interviews to assess and explore health and quality of life issues.ResultsThe young people in the camps had very limited knowledge of reproductive health issues; only about one in five correctly answered at least one question on reproductive health. They were clear that they wanted more reproductive health education and services, to be provided by health workers rather than parents or teachers who were not able to give them the information they needed. Marital status was associated with sexual health knowledge; having relevant knowledge of reproductive health was up to six times higher in married compared to unmarried youth, after adjusting for socio-economic and demographic factors. Although condom use was considered important, in practice a large proportion of respondents felt too embarrassed to use them. There was a contradiction between moral views and actual behaviour; more than half believed they should remain virgins until marriage, while over half of the youth experienced sex before marriage. Two thirds of women were married before the age of 18, but two third felt they did not marry at the right age. Forced sex was considered acceptable by one in three youth. The youth considered their quality of life to be poor and limited due to confinement in the camps, the limited work opportunities, the aid dependency, the unclear future and the boredom and unhappiness they face.ConclusionsThe long conflict in Myanmar and the resultant long stay in refugee camps over decades affect the wellbeing of these young people. Lack of sexual health education and relevant services, and their concerns for their future are particular problems, which need to be addressed. Issues of education, vocational training and job possibilities also need to be considered.*Burmese is used for all ethnic groups.