From ‘no problem’ to ‘a lot of difficulties’: barriers to health service utilization among migrants in Rakai, Uganda

Ruth Young, Caitlin E. Kennedy, Anita Dam, Neema Nakyanjo, William Ddaaki, Anne Catherine Kiyingi, Emmanuel Mukwana, Abagail Edwards, Fred Nalugoda, Larry W. Chang, Maria J. Wawer, Maya Oaks, Ligia Paina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Migration is increasingly common in Africa, especially for employment. Migrants may face additional barriers to accessing health care, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention and treatment, compared with long-term residents. Exploring migrants’ experiences with health services can provide insights to inform the design of health programmes. In this study, we used qualitative methods to understand migrants’ barriers to health service utilization in south-central Uganda. This secondary data analysis used data from in-depth semi-structured interviews with 35 migrants and 25 key informants between 2017 and 2021. Interviews were analysed thematically through team debriefings and memos. We constructed three representative migrant journeys to illustrate barriers to accessing health services, reflecting experiences of migrant personas with differing HIV status and wealth. Migrants reported experiencing a range of barriers, which largely depended on the resources they could access, their existing health needs and their ability to form connections and relationships at their destination. Migrants were less familiar with local health services, and sometimes needed more time and resources to access care. Migrants living with HIV faced additional barriers to accessing health services due to anticipated discrimination from community members or health workers and difficulties in continuing antiretroviral therapy when switching health facilities. Despite these barriers, social networks and local connections facilitated access. However, for some migrants, such as those who were poorer or living with HIV, these barriers were more pronounced. Our work highlights how local connections with community members and health workers help migrants access health services. In practice, reducing barriers to health services is likely to benefit both migrants and long-term residents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)620-630
Number of pages11
JournalHealth policy and planning
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 1 2023


  • HIV
  • Immigrants
  • health services
  • health services research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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