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From left to right: Dr Anna Isaacs, Prof Janet Seeley, Prof Andrew Hayward and Prof Lisa McDaid.

Focus on inequality at World Congress on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health

18 May 2018

Population health experts met to share their progress on health inequality during an MRC-funded symposium at the first World Congress on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health in Edinburgh on 17 May.

MRC-funded researchers from Uganda, Glasgow and London came together to deliver a symposium on tackling inequalities in health and care for migrants and minority groups.

Our support for the Congress also enabled participants from low or middle income countries to attend. People who have migrated from one part of the world to another can experience vast differences in health when compared to the rest of the population, especially if they arrive as asylum seekers or refugees. The same is true of people who are part of minority groups or live in poverty in the UK.

The socio-economic determinants of health inequalities have long been a focus of our population health portfolio and the symposium in Edinburgh was an opportunity for our researchers to share their work.

Professor Andrew Hayward of University College London (UCL) made the case for being more inclusive from the outset. He explained that his work is all about working with, rather than for, the people who live with extreme health inequality: “If research, teaching, service design and policy are truly to redress imbalances in health equality, then the people affected should be involved in developing ideas and services.”

The theme of community participation continued in Professor Lisa McDaid’s presentation. She shared her work on the potential for syndemics – understanding how multiple diseases, risk factors and other markers of disadvantage occur within particular populations, including migrant and minority populations.

Professor McDaid leads a team at the MRC/Chief Scientist Office Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow. “We could use the same community-participative research tools that provide an insight into health problems experienced by people in sexual and gender minorities to learn more about why these syndemics occur and are sustained. We need to understand the lived experience of marginalised groups and work together to identify the means of countering syndemic ill health,” she said.

Professor Janet Seeley of the MRC/Uganda Virus Research Institute and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Uganda Research Unit, brought attention to non-communicable diseases, those that don’t spread between people. She highlighted the impact of health problems caused by mis- or non-diagnosis of conditions like hypertension or cancer. She said: “Circumstances, be they social, economic, environmental or political, have an impact on health and wellbeing of migrants. Our work in sub-Saharan Africa has shown structural factors like these limit an individual’s ability to access care and this contributes to health inequality.”

Being healthy means different things to different people. Dr Anna Isaacs from City, University of London shared work from her PhD at the University of Glasgow on the experiences of asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa now living in Glasgow. In her talk she considered how structural vulnerabilities – poverty, racial discrimination, migration and language barriers – interact, leading to poor long-term health.

“Asylum seekers and refugees who took part in our research considered keeping healthy to be an individual responsibility, with diet and exercise highlighted as especially important, but they did not necessarily feel they had the capacity to be healthy in practice, nor did they feel that health promotion messages were necessarily relevant to them,” she said.

Symposium organiser Professor Kate O’Donnell, of the University of Glasgow, said: “Our symposium on health inequality showed the breadth of approaches the MRC currently funds to detail how inequalities emerge and so potential routes to making health accessible to all. There was an excellent exchange of ideas and strong discussion, which we will use to develop the health agenda for migrants and minority groups. Thank you to everyone who contributed.”

MRC Chief Science Officer Dr Rob Buckle commented: “Research into health inequalities helps us understand the cause and effect of disparities in access to healthcare. Only with these insights can we start to tackle the root causes, mitigate consequences and inform policy. That’s why we are pleased to be involved in the first World Congress, it provides an invaluable platform to highlight the health and care issues facing migrants and minority groups every day of their lives.”


  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Generic
  • Locations: Edinburgh
  • Type: News article