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J Epidemiol Community Health. Nov 2000; 54(11): 864–869.
PMCID: PMC1731574

The health of the Roma people: a review of the published literature


BACKGROUND—The Roma people originated in northern India and have been known in Europe for nearly a thousand years. For much of that time they have been the subjects of discrimination and oppression, culminating in the extermination of half a million Roma in the Nazi death camps. While it is widely believed that the health of Roma people is often poorer than the majority population, these inequalities remain largely unresearched.
METHODS—Published literature on the health of the Roma people was identified using Medline. Opinion pieces were excluded, as were papers relating to anthropometry and to genetic markers. The resultant papers were analysed by country of study and by disease type or care group.
RESULTS—Some 70% of papers identified related to just three countries; Spain and the Czech and Slovak Republics. Much literature concentrates upon communicable disease or reproductive health. The limited evidence suggests increased morbidity from non-communicable disease, but there is little published on this topic. Evidence on health care, though fragmentary, suggests poorer access to health services and uptake of preventative care.
DISCUSSION—Published research on the health needs of the Roma population is sparse. The topics that have received attention suggest a focus on concepts of contagion or social Darwinism, indicating a greater concern with the health needs of the majority populations with which they live. There is a need for both further research into the health of Roma people; with particular emphasis on non-communicable disease; and also for interventions that improve Roma health. Such research must, however, be handled with sensitivity, recognising the social and political context of the society concerned.

Keywords: gypsies; inequalities; ethnicity; social exclusion

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