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Refugee Week: Investigating the impact of poor oral health on people seeking sanctuary

Professor Anne-Marie Coll

RESEARCHES at the University of South Wales (USW) are delving into the critical issue of oral health among refugees. They hope to shed light on the unique challenges faced by displaced populations in maintaining oral health and the broader implications for their overall well-being.

Having identified that there is very little research in Wales, the research group secured funding for an exploratory study. Collaborating with the charity, Displaced People in Action (DPIA), who put them in touch with caseworkers supporting asylum seekers and refugees daily. They conducted interviews with a small group of asylum seekers and refugees and found that there were lots of similarities in the discussions on oral health, such as, language barriers, financial difficulties and culture.

Associate Professor Anne-Marie Coll, Lead Researcher, said: “Oral health is the second highest unmet need in people seeking sanctuary.

“We are examining the profound impact that poor oral health can have on refugees, including the inequity of access to oral healthcare.

“Our goal is to provide insights that can inform policies, and improve healthcare services for these vulnerable communities, as well as education on oral health prevention programmes.

“We are in the process of applying for more funding to extend this research wider. If we are successful, we hope to devise workshops on health topics, such as, oral health, diet, how the NHS works. When people come here these things are not familiar to them. DPIA have been invaluable in helping to progress this research and we hope to train the case workers to roll out these workshops.”

Dr Ashra Khanom, Senior Research Fellow at Swansea University Medical School, said: “The HEAR (Health Experiences of Asylum Seekers and Refugees) Study identified dental care as one of the key areas of concern for both people seeking sanctuary and health care providers.

“Our oral health study sets out to address this need by developing a novel approach to preventative care. The insights gained have the potential to be disseminated to other vulnerable groups.”

USW was awarded University of Sanctuary status in 2020, recognising its commitment to creating a culture of welcome for people seeking sanctuary within, and beyond, its campuses. As well as Sanctuary Scholarships for undergraduate and postgraduate students, the university provides free language preparation courses for refugees, and works closely with local authorities and third sector organisations to support people seeking sanctuary.

The research group includes Associate Professor Anne-Marie Coll, USW, Dr Teresa Filipponi, USW, Emeritus Professor Jamal Ameen, USW, Professor Wayne Richards, and Dr Ashra Khanom, Swansea University.

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