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Year : 2019  |  Volume : 17  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 140-148

Physical activity as a psychosocial intervention among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh: a rapid ecological community assessment

1 PhD, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
2 MSW, NSW Service for The Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors, Australia
3 PhD, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney; PhD, St John of God Health Care North Richmond Hospital, North Richmond; PhD, Black Dog Institute, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, Australia
4 PhD, Research Initiatives Bangladesh, Banani, Dhaka, Bangladesh
5 PhD, School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney; PhD, Black Dog Institute, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, Australia

Correspondence Address:
Ruth Wells
School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Hospital Rd, Randwick, NSW, 2031, Sydney
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/INTV.INTV_15_19

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Over 907,000 Rohingya refugees are currently living in mostly makeshift camps in Bangladesh with limited resources to address their psychosocial needs. Physical activity is a scalable, low-cost intervention effective for prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases and mental health problems. Understanding community attitudes to physical activity and mental health is key to designing community endorsed and accessible interventions. We employed the ‘community readiness model’, a tool to assess community climate, needs and resources regarding physical activity as a community-driven psychosocial intervention. Fifteen Rohingya key informants were interviewed across multiple refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar district in January 2019. Community readiness scores were calculated. Thematic analysis explored community-identified priorities. Community members strongly endorsed physical activity as an effective biopsychosocial strategy for relieving tension (a local idiom of distress). Despite leadership endorsement, space and resources to support community initiatives are extremely limited. For women, restrictions of movement were identified as barriers to participation. Physical activity is a feasible and acceptable community-identified strategy to promote psychosocial wellbeing among Rohingya refugees. Resources for physical activity programmes are extremely limited despite the identified social, mental and physical health benefits.
Key implications for practice
  • Physical activity was identified as a psychosocial strategy by Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, which can help to relieve tension, which is a local idiom of distress.
  • Resources (such as space and equipment) to support community-led physical activity initiatives are limited, despite support from community leadership.
  • Access to physical activity is limited for women, due to security fears and cultural attitudes, as well as for people with disabilities and older people, due to overcrowding and lack of accessibility planning.

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