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Policies on return and reintegration of displaced healthcare workers towards rebuilding conflict-affected health systems: a review for The Lancet-AUB Commission on Syria

  • Rayes, Diana1, 2
  • Meiqari, Lana1, 3
  • Yamout, Rouham1
  • Abbara, Aula4
  • Nuwayhid, Iman1
  • Jabbour, Samer1
  • Abouzeid, Marian1, 5
  • 1 American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon , Beirut (Lebanon)
  • 2 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA , Baltimore (United States)
  • 3 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands , Amsterdam (Netherlands)
  • 4 Imperial College London, London, UK , London (United Kingdom)
  • 5 Deakin University, Geelong, Australia , Geelong (Australia)
Published Article
Conflict and Health
BioMed Central
Publication Date
May 07, 2021
DOI: 10.1186/s13031-021-00367-4
Springer Nature


BackgroundWar and armed conflicts severely disrupt all health system components, including the healthcare workforce. Although data is limited on the scale of health care worker (HCW) displacement in conflict zones, it is widely acknowledged that conflict conditions result in the displacement of a significant portion of qualified HCWs from their country of origin. While voluntary HCW return is integral to health system rebuilding in conflict-affected and post-conflict settings, there has been little exploration of the nature of national or international policies which encourage HCW return and reintegration to their home countries in the post-conflict period.MethodsWe conducted a systematic review to identify policies and policy recommendations intended to facilitate the return of displaced HCWs to their home countries and acknowledge their contribution to rebuilding the post-conflict health system. We searched three bibliographic databases and a range of organisational and national health agency websites to identify peer-reviewed articles and grey literature published in English or Arabic between 1 January 1990 to 24 January 2021, and extracted relevant information. We classified policies and policy recommendations using an adapted version of the UNHCR 4Rs Framework.ResultsWe identified nine peer-review articles and four grey literature reports that fit our inclusion criteria, all of which were published in English. These covered issues of repatriation (n = 3), reintegration (n = 2), health system rehabilitation and reconstruction (n = 2); six documents covered several of these themes. Information was available for nine conflict contexts: Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, Namibia, Northern Uganda, South Sudan, Timor Leste, and Zimbabwe. Findings demonstrate that health system rebuilding and rehabilitation serve as precursors and reinforcers of the successful return, repatriation, and reintegration of displaced HCWs.ConclusionsDespite the significant numbers of HCWs displaced by conflict, this study identified few specific policies and limited information explicitly focused on the repatriation and reintegration of such workers to their home country in the post-conflict period. Additional research is needed to understand the particular barriers faced by conflict-displaced HCWs in returning to their home country. Conflict-affected and post-conflict states should develop policies and initiatives that address factors within and beyond the health sector to encourage displaced HCW return and provide sustainable reintegration solutions for those who return to post-conflict health systems.

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