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Severe neonatal morbidity among births to refugee women


Background — Despite being considered high risk, little is known about the perinatal health of refugees in developed countries. Our objectives were to examine whether: (1) the healthy migrant effect applies to infants born to refugee women with respect to severe neonatal morbidity (SNM); (2) refugee status was a risk factor for SNM among immigrants; (3) refugee sponsorship status was a risk factor for SNM by comparing asylum-seekers to sponsored refugees; and (4) refugees were at greater risk of specific SNM subtypes.

Methods — Immigration records (1985–2010) linked to Ontario hospital data (2002–2010) were used to examine SNM. We calculated adjusted risk ratios (ARR) with 95 % confidence intervals (95 % CI) for SNM and unadjusted risk ratios with 99 % CI for SNM subtypes using log-binomial regression.

Results — There were borderline differences in SNM among refugees (N = 29,755) compared to both non-immigrants (N = 860,314) (ARR = 0.94, 95 % CI 0.89, 0.99) and other immigrants (N = 230,847) (ARR = 1.10, 95 % CI 1.04, 1.18) with a larger difference comparing other immigrants to non-immigrants (ARR = 0.83, 95 % CI 0.81, 0.85). Asylum-seekers did not differ from sponsored refugees (ARR = 1.07, 95 % CI 0.90, 1.27). Though rare, several SNM subtypes were significant with large effect sizes.

Conclusion — With respect to SNM risk, the healthy migrant effect clearly applies to non-refugee immigrants, but is weaker for refugees and may not apply. Among immigrants, refugee status was a weak risk factor for SNM and may not be clinically important. Sponsorship status was not associated with greater risk of SNM. Further investigation of several SNM subtypes is warranted.



Wanigaratne S, Cole DC, Bassil K, Hyman I, Moineddin R, Shakya Y, Urquia ML. Matern Child Health J. 2016; 20(10):2189-98. Epub 2016 Jul 9.

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