Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center

Somali Oral Health and Health Literacy in Massachusetts


At the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, we've been engaged in a three-year National Institutes of Health-funded research study on the relationship between health literacy and oral health status and other health outcomes of Somali refugees living in Massachusetts. As the study draws to a close, we have been reflecting on what we've learned- both about oral health and about how we engage in research in a refugee community.


Coming in to the study, we knew that oral health is a significant area of health concern for refugee children and adults. We also knew that literacy in English and Somali could influence how refugees navigate the health care system.


Somalis in our state were very enthusiastic about the study. Our Somali research team members led an extensive outreach effort to the Somali community. Research participants described their inability to communicate directly with dentists as well as their concerns around paying for dental care. Yet the community reported very good oral health behaviors, had a very good oral health status, and clearly valued their oral health.  In general, their brushing practices met and exceeded U.S. dental recommendations. Personal oral hygiene was enhanced by the use of traditional practices such as the miswak stick brush, particularly prior to prayer.  By acknowledging the value and efficacy of such traditional practices, dentists may better communicate the concurrent value of Western preventive and restorative dentistry and even recommend approaches to integrate oral health practices from different cultures. 



This article was contributed by Jo Hunter Adams M.P.H., M.A., Somali Oral Health Study Coordinator and Paul Geltman M.D., M.P.H. Medical Director of Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Refugee and Immigrant Health Program.



See more oral health resources >


In The Literature 
RHTAC Newsletter Update


Happy New Year to our subscribers! 


In 2013, the Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center (RHTAC) newsletter will be published on a quarterly basis.  We will continue to update our Refugee Health Updates page on the RHTAC website.  Together with a suspension of webinars, these changes reflect the reduction in funding support. Please subscribe to Refugee Health Updates and follow RHTAC on Twitter @RefugeeHealthTA for updates.       


We are looking for news and updates, brief reports, events, resources and developments of interest to the refugee health community. Please send your submissions to

Refugee Admissions

From October through December 2012, refugee admissions to the U.S. have been on track to successfully meet the 70,000 admissions ceiling outlined in the Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2013 Report to Congress.  18,233 refugees were admitted during these months, which constitute the first quarter of the 2013 federal fiscal year (FY 2013).  The majority of the admitted refugees are from the Near East/South Asia (46%), Africa (24%), and East Asia (22%) regions.  More than a thousand refugees have been admitted thus far from each of the following countries: Bhutan, Burma, Cuba, Iraq, and Somalia.  First quarter of FY 2013 refugee admissions are up 79% compared to the same time last year.  With such robust refugee admissions early on, 2013 is anticipated to be a notable year for refugee resettlement in the U.S. 



Community Dialogue on Suicide Prevention


Since CDC and RHTAC released the findings from their investigation of Bhutanese refugee suicides in the U.S., members of the investigation's study team have been responding to questions and comments through RHTAC's Community Dialogue online forum. The conversation has had several posts discussing refugee suicide risk factors and prevention strategies. Share your ideas and join the conversation on Community Dialogue > 

For more resources, including posters translated into refugee languages, visit RHTAC's Refugee Suicide Prevention Training Toolkit >

Refugees from Burma Health Profile


More than 51,000 refugees from Burma were admitted to the U.S. over the past three years making them one of the largest refugee resettlement groups in recent history.  To help ensure culturally sensitive care for this ethnically diverse population, RHTAC partnered with the Center for Applied Linguistics to produce a health profile called Refugees from Burma: Considerations for Health Providers


Designed for health care professionals and others helping new refugee arrivals, this health profile provides basic information about refugees from Burma, their health experiences, and cultural beliefs that may influence their approach to health.  View health profile >   

ACA Resources in Refugee Languages

Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is less than a year away. Inform refugees in your community about the ACA by utilizing RHTAC's new briefs available in English, Arabic, Burmese, and Nepali. RHTAC's briefs explain in an easy-to-understand way how the ACA increases health insurance access, improves health insurance quality, and provides more consumer protections. Each brief was translated with help from native language speakers and contains a glossary of common health insurance terms. View ACA briefs >   


Learn more about ACA > 

Upcoming Events & Trainings 


Overcoming a Violent Past: Domestic Violence in Post Conflict Communities Webinar
January 22, 2013, 2:00-3:00 pm EST
Presented by: National Partnership for Community Training  


Development and Impact of Building Collaborations and Partnerships Webinar  

January 24, 2013, 2:00-3:30 pm EST 

Presented by: Project SOAR and U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement


Organizational Sustainability and Building Upon Your Unique Strengths to Plan for the Future Webinar 

January 31, 2013, 2:00-3:30 pm EST 

Presented by: Project SOAR and U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement  


The Eighth National Conference on Quality Health Care for Culturally Diverse Populations 

March 11-14, 2013, Oakland, CA  

Presented by: DiversityRx  


2013 North American Refugee Health Conference 

June 6-8, 2013, Toronto, Canada

Presented by:  University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine


View more events and trainings > 

Funding Opportunities 

Medicaid Expansion and Reproductive Health Care for Women 

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Letter of Intent Due Date: February 4, 2013 

Application Due Date: March 4, 2013, by 5:00 PM EST. The intent of this grant is to study the use of medical services and health outcomes among low-income women of reproductive age (15-44 years), before and after expansion of Medicaid eligibility. 

U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Due January 7, 2014. Suggested research areas include: biobehavioral studies of multiple factors that influence child health disparities, studies that target specific health promotion needs of children with known illness and/or disability, and/or studies that test and evaluate comparative effectiveness of health promotion interventions.


RHTAC is a project of the Refugee and Immigrant Health Program, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Center for Refugee Trauma and Resilience at Children's Hospital Boston, the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, the Cultural Orientation Resource Center at Center for Applied Linguistics, and JSI Research and Training Institute, Inc. The information contained in RHTAC newsletters do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of RHTAC's partner agencies or its funders.  RHTAC is funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Grant #90RB0042.    


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Seasonal Flu Materials for Refugees

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Materials to improve knowledge of seasonal flu in refugee populations. Available in 11 languages.


Health Orientation Videos in Karen and Burmese
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare & Burmese refugees.

Videos can be shown as part of a cultural orientation or before refugees' health screening or first primary care visit. 

Health Info Part 1 (Karen)

Health Info Part 2 (Karen)

Health Info (Burmese) 


Extended and Enhanced Orientation Curriculum
Cultural Orientation Resource Center, Center for Applied Linguistics
Standardized orientation curriculum addressing a number of topics and issues for refugees who have been in the U.S. for more than 30 days but less than five years.


University of South Florida, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, Research & Training Center for Children's Mental Health
Report identifies and describes measurable organizational factors that lead to cultural competence in organizations serving ethnically diverse children.


Multilingual Health and Mental Health Brochures
Centre of Knowledge on Healthy Child Development

Brochures on a variety of topics including anxiety, autism, behavior problems, eating disorders, and substance abuse.  Available in refugee languages. 

Webinar recording of Strengthening Services for LGBT Refugees and Asylees  
Heartland Alliance, Rainbow Welcome Initiative

Webinar discusses sexual orientation, gender expression, experiences of LGBT refugees, and ways providers can demonstrate support for this population.    


Worldwide Community of Resettled Refugees
UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Website provides a place for refugees to share resettlement stories, find friends, and connect with one another. 

View more resources > 


Webinar Archive   


Refugee Women's Health

September 13, 2012 


Promising Practices in Domestic Health Orientation 

July 11, 2012


Making CLAS Happen

June 20, 2012 



Newsletter Archive

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Catch up by visiting the archive!



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