Research Partnership of Iraqi Needs Health Assessment Yields Results
Iraqi Refugees' Health Needs Are Not Being Met; More Must be Done to Ensure Access to Adequate Healthcare Services



A father describes how his son was kidnapped, imprisoned and beaten before his captors let him go several days later. A mother describes how her husband was shot and killed in front of herself and her children. The terrors of war have left their mark on the Iraqi refugees resettling in the Sacramento region.


Over these past few years the number of Iraqi refugees in Sacramento has risen dramatically and currently stands at 2,000 individuals, which continues to grow. Due to this increased number, it becomes more important that we understand the health needs of this community, and how they view our health system in order to best serve them. The Iraqi Health Needs Assessment is a community-based research project that sought to find the physical and mental health needs of Iraqi refugees arriving to the Sacramento region since 2008. We worked with the Mesopotamia Organization, a fellow nonprofit agency serving the local Iraqi population, and the UC Davis Clinical and Translational Science Center, which focuses on translating medical health discoveries into everyday practice in local communities.


Together we found that the health needs of the 34 adults interviewed for the study, all recent immigrants, were greater than the help they were receiving from the current United States health system in general, and from local Sacramento health providers. These refugees received limited insurance coverage to see the specialists they asked for, and many struggled to find a voice in the system because of language barriers. The study participants faced additional challenges due to the traumatic experiences most suffered living in Iraq during Saddam's presidency and the subsequent war.


From our interviews we found our study participants' mental health needs required more attention by health care providers: 91% of those interviewed said they or a family member suffered from mental health issues related to the war in Iraq, and almost as many -- 79% -- said they had directly experienced traumatic experiences related to the fighting. Either they or someone close to them endured torture, kidnapping, or witnessed killings or bombings that continue to affect them mentally. This trauma showed itself in several ways. As many as 59% said they suffered from insomnia, 44% suffered from depression, and 38% from constant fear. To get through these difficult times, most of those interviewed said they coped by talking to friends and family members, exercising or relying on their religious faith.


Overall, those interviewed from this community were not satisfied with the healthcare they received in the United States compared to their home country and other asylum countries before arriving to Sacramento. Above all, the financial cost of care was not affordable for 97% of those interviewed. Many said it was very hard for them to schedule appointments, which led many to rely on Emergency room treatment for their primary care. No dental or vision coverage left many without very basic health services. As many as 26% of our participants said they traveled abroad or sent for medications from other countries where everything from doctor visits to surgeries came at a more affordable price.


With these results, it is our hope that this research will help us to work with local physical and mental health care providers to find real solutions to the Iraqi community's greatest health needs. One participant said directly, "All Iraqis have witnessed cases of maltreatment and killing." Some of this community's health needs were unique to those from Iraq, while other struggles, such as the cost of health care, are a burden for all immigrants. One participant expressed his desire for "this research to focus on all refugees from all around the globe coming to the U.S..." so that all refugees who come here can "receive [a] better standard of living." With the findings from this research partnership, we will continue to work to find solutions for the local Iraqi community that will translate into health solutions for all those in need.