Building Community-Based Participatory Research Partnerships with a Somali Refugee Community

  • Crista E. Johnson
    Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Crista E. Johnson, MD, MSc, FACOG, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maricopa Integrated Health System, Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC), Arizona State University, 411 N. Central Avenue, Suite 720, Phoenix AZ 85004
    Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maricopa Integrated Health System, Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona
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  • Sagal A. Ali
    Department of Global Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, New York
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  • Michèle P.-L. Shipp
    Division of Health Promotion and Health Behavior, College of Public Health, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
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      The U.S. has become home to growing numbers of immigrants and refugees from countries where the traditional practice of female genital cutting (FGC) is prevalent. These women under-utilize reproductive health care, and challenge healthcare providers in providing culturally appropriate care.


      This study examined Somali immigrant women's experiences with the U.S. healthcare system, exploring how attitudes, perceptions, and cultural values, such as FGC, influence their use of reproductive health care.


      A mixed-method community-based participatory research (CBPR) collaboration with a Somali refugee community was conducted from 2005 to 2008 incorporating surveys, semi-structured focus groups, and individual interviews. Providers caring for this community were also interviewed to gain their perspectives and experiences.


      The process of establishing a partnership with a Somali community is described wherein the challenges, successes, and lessons learned in the process of conducting CBPR are examined. Challenges obtaining informed consent, language barriers, and reliance on FGC self-report were surmounted through mobilization of community social networks, trust-building, and the use of a video-elicitation device. The community partnership collaborated around shared goals of voicing unique healthcare concerns of the community to inform the development of interventional programs to improve culturally-competent care.


      Community-based participatory research using mixed-methods is critical to facilitating trust-building and engaging community members as active participants in every phase of the research process, enabling the rigorous and ethical conduct of research with refugee communities.
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