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Travellers suffer “disproportionate burden” of physical health problems: TCD review

A new review from Trinity College Dublin has highlighted the poor health of Irish Travellers and the health disparity between Travellers and the general population in Ireland.

In the review, published today in the open access BMJ Journal, researchers from Trinity, led by Head of Discipline of Physiotherapy, School of Medicine, Dr Julie Broderick, found that those in the Travelling community suffer a “disproportionate burden” of physical health conditions. 

The review looked at all available evidence across published reports and peer-reviewed journals, along with grey literature was pooled, reporting physical health conditions of Mincéiri or Irish Travellers, up to April 2023. 20 reports were included in the scoping review, which had 7,397 participants. 

One study took place in England and Wales, while the remaining studies took place in Ireland, North and South, researchers said.

Conditions such aa asthma, metabolic syndrome, bronchitis, and tuberculosis were found to be two to three times more prevalent in Travellers compared to the general Irish population.

The review found that in travellers aged under 65 years old, there was a higher rateof intentional injuries and a lower rate of unintentional injuries compared to the general population. Travellers over 65, meanwhile, had higher rates of injury compared to the general population, which researchers said highlighted their vulnerability. 

The TCD review also noted unique health considerations of travellers; researchers said that although numbers were small, some rare conditions were described in the review, including type 2 hyperprolinemia and leukoencephalopathy with brain calcifications and cysts. 

Researchers said that common conditions like cancer and arthritis were minimally reported within the review, meaning more data is needed on the prevalence of these conditions in Travellers. They added that some findings in the study pointed to the possibility of health benefits linked with the traditional Traveller way of life (associated with a distinct gut microbiome) – although they noted how this has changed with modernisation is not fully known.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Broderick said:

‘’Pooling the available evidence together really highlighted marked health disparities between Travellers and comparable figures from the general Irish population. The prevalence of a number of respiratory and cardiac conditions was 2-3 times higher in Travellers. Some rare conditions were described and there was a high injury profile in Travellers.’’ 

‘’We very much valued the input of a member of the Traveller Community, Amy Ward who co-authored this work. Amy provided important direction, ensuring that the Traveller voice was integrated throughout the entire review process, which has enhanced the relevance and real-world impact of this work.’’

Ms Ward, a member of the Traveller Community, said she hoped the research would be a “springboard” for improvements in the lives of the community.

‘’I really see the value of collating this information which makes an important contribution to our knowledge of health in Travellers. I’m hopeful that this will be a springboard for a broader piece of work that could eventually see tangible improvements in the lives of the Traveller community.”

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