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Is there evidence of increased morbidity rates for minority and migrant groups?

Key Area:
Health And Social Protection
Discrimination, Equality
04/03/2012 - 22:00
Short Answer

There is some evidence of increased morbidity rates for migrant groups concerning certain health problems.

Qualitative Info

As refered in the Portuguese State of the Art Report issued in 2009 by the Information Network on Good Practice in Health Care for Migrants and Minorities in Europe (MIGHEALTHNET), according to the Fourth National Health Interview Survey - an instrument of assessment and observation of health, collecting population based data and generating estimations on the state of health and illness and respective determinants -, immigrants present a more favourable self-reported state of health in comparison to Portuguese citizens (62.8% classify their state of health as good or very good), show lower propensity to short term physical disability and experience a lower prevalence of chronic diseases (except for asthma). However, immigrants seem to be more susceptible to certain health problems and risk behaviour, namely malnutrition, high risk and/or early pregnancies, tuberculosis and work accidents.

In the case of tuberculosis, it is known that in Portugal the incidence of the disease among 
immigrants is higher compared to the general population. It also generally acknowledged that immigrants are exposed to higher risk because they mostly come from countries showing high prevalence rates of the infection and many of them live in poor economic and social conditions. According to data presented in a paper published by the Portuguese Journal of Pulmonology, in 2003, the incidence of tuberculosis per 100 thousand inhabitants was 41 in the general population and 149 among the immigrant population, thus 3.6 times higher, with a total number of 324 cases. Geographically this situation had more expression in Lisbon (21%) and Setúbal (20%), with almost all of the patients coming from PALOP countries, particularly from Angola (3.5%) and Cape Verde (2.6%). However, there is also a considerable number of people infected with the disease coming from Guinea-Bissau, Saint Tomé and Prince and Mozambique. Most of these patients are men who have been residing in Portugal for more than 5 years (Rifes and Villar, 2003). Tuberculosis is also closely associated with HIV, being one of the more common opportunistic diseases.

According to information supplied by health professionals and NGOs, there has been a positive evolution in Portugal in recent years in terms of access to information, means of prevention and tests on the part of immigrants, as well as access to treatment. The main problem identified was fear on the part of immigrants in using the services and treatments available, due to the stereotypes and stigma associated with this particular infection. Immigrants often failed to do tests and only consulted the health services when the disease reached a serious stage. Often, when they were informed of their health problem they missed medical consultations and/or the treatments.

According to developed research, there is a higher frequency of low weight premature births from African origin mothers when compared to Portuguese mothers. The descents
 of immigrants tend do have higher foetal and neo-natal mortality and mothers suffer from more pathologies during pregnancy, namely infectious diseases. As stated in the Portuguese State of the Art Report of the Information Network on Good Practice in Health Care for Migrants and Minorities in Europe (MIGHEALTHNET), this last fact can be justified by their later attendance of pre-natal medical care.

Regarding the immigrant workers vulnerability to have work accidents, according to data from the Authority for Work Conditions there was a slight reduction in the number of fatal work accidents between 2004 and 2008 (from 197 in the first year to 114 in the last). Of those, 45 occurred in civil construction companies, a sector in which more than 50% of fatal work accidents occur. The most frequent accidents involve Ukrainians, Angolans and Romanians.


Fonseca, M . L., Silva, S., Esteves. A. e McGarrigle Jennifer (1999), Portuguese State of the Art Report, MIGHEALTHNET: Information Network on Good Practice in Health Care for Migrants and Minorities in Europe,, Date of access: 17.02.2012.

Groups affected/interested Migrants
Type (R/D) Anti-migrant/xenophobia
Key socio-economic / Institutional Areas Health and social protection
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