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Reproductive health at conflict borders: a cross-sectional survey of human rights violations and perinatal outcomes at the Thai-Myanmar border

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Abstract

Background:

Human rights violations (HRVs) are common in conflict and displacement contexts. Women are especially vulnerable to HRVs in these contexts, and perinatal health is acutely sensitive to related stressors and health care barriers. However, how HRVs affect immediate and long-term perinatal health in chronic displacement settings has not been closely investigated. Furthermore, it remains unclear whether and how HRVs in these contexts are tied directly to displacement circumstances or other marginalizing factors affecting local migrant and minority populations generally.

Methods:

We investigated these questions using novel survey data from 577 women at the northern ThaiMyanmar border, where thousands of people have fled conflict in Shan State, Myanmar, for refuge in a range of precarious settings in Thailand, including unofficial refugee camps, villages, and worksites. We compared HRV exposures by ethnicity, country of birth, legal documentation, and residential setting. We then analyzed perinatal outcomes associated with HRV frequency, timing, and type.

Results:

Birth in Myanmar, and ethnic minority and precarious legal status more broadly, predicted higher HRV prevalence. HRV frequency significantly predicted unmet antenatal care and lower birth weight, along with HRVs related to labor exploitation and violence or conflict. HRVs timed closer to pregnancies were more adversely associated with perinatal outcomes. Resource/property deprivation was the strongest predictor of pregnancy complications.

Conclusions:

Human rights must be urgently attended to, through expanded HRV screenings and responsive care, and policy changes to further protect migrant workers, displaced persons, and others in precarious legal status situations.