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Charité's Women for women: health care for female refugees
The health care-related needs of refugee women differ greatly from those of refugee men. Furthermore, refugee women also face unique situational and cultural barriers to accessing medical care. Mental health, in addition to sexual and reproductive health, are often associated with feelings of shame. The lack of childcare, access to interpreters and the general bureaucratic complexity of the German health care system further hinder refugee women from receiving the care they need.
Led by gynecologists and pediatricians with help from interpreters, casual discussion groups are held directly in the refugee housing centers. During these discussions, Charité’s experts share practical information regarding women’s health, family planning and healthcare access in Berlin with the refugee women.
Fundamental aims of the project
- Explaining the healthcare system in Berlin via outreach counseling
- Providing information about First-Aid measures for children in the community housing centers
- Hosting small, native language workshops for women about stress management
- Collecting relevant demographics and histories of gynecological from refugee women in the community housing centers following the discussion groups.
- Disproportionate responsibility for children makes accessing medical care more difficult, especially when there is a lack of child care.
- Unfamiliarity within the community housing centers and lack of private spaces increases risk of sexual assault and the prevalence of discrimination for refugee women, which further hinder their access to gender-specific needs and medical care.
- Maternal and obstetric care is difficult to organize for women that need it. Gynecologists cannot be freely chosen (due to lacking healthcare coverage) and those that are available often do not speak the native languages of the refugee women, which leads to miscommunication and mistrust.
- There is a lack of resources available for interpreters that must work with difficult medical terminology.
- Refugee women often report xenophobic treatment from public authorities and within the healthcare system. Furthermore, the reality of the care system and insurance system is very complicated and difficult for refugees to comprehend. Decisions regarding insurance coverage and special treatment are often made by public servants rather than doctors, therefore making them appear fickle and opaque.
- The medical authorities are generally not well trusted. This is often based on previous experiences with public authorities, and the fear of deportation. For refugee women, psychological topics and questions pertaining to gynecological health are often associated with shame and therefore are not brought up with male state employees and doctors.
What the Women for Women project offers
The structure of the presentation and the following discussion group does not provide identification of individual medical needs because the context and location doesn’t allow for individual medical examinations. However, through the medical network of our project leaders, refugee women can learn more about which in-patient and out-patient medical options are available to them.
Structure of the discussion groups in the community housing centers
Female gynecologists, along with other medical experts and Charité’s equal opportunity team, with the assistance of language interpreters with medical vocabulary expertise, give presentations to women’s health in refugee housing centers across the city. Each presentation includes information on contraceptive options, breast cancer self-examination and maternal health within the German healthcare system. These presentations require active participation and the topics incite lively discussion that allows refugee women to engage with and ask about their own medical needs, while simultaneously building trust with the German medical community. A second pilot project begins with a presentation on preventing/treating childrens’ day-to-day accidents. Following the presentation, a trained native-language counselor from the Ipso Care Center Berlin leads a discussion on psychological well-being for refugee women and mothers.
Following the event, each woman is given the option to complete a survey which contains both demographic questions and questions pertaining to past medical treatment. Support with filling out the survey is provided the interpreter upon request. The results are published in an annual report, which can be found at the bottom of this webpage.