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Trauma, poverty and mental health among Somali and Rwandese refugees living in an African refugee settlement – an epidemiological study

Lamaro P Onyut12*, Frank Neuner34, Verena Ertl34, Elisabeth Schauer4, Michael Odenwald24 and Thomas Elbert24

Author Affiliations

1 Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda

2 University of Konstanz, Germany

3 University of Bielefeld, Germany

4 Vivo International, Zur Setze 7, 78476 Allensbach, Germany

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Conflict and Health 2009, 3:6  doi:10.1186/1752-1505-3-6

Published: 26 May 2009



The aim of this study was to establish the prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression among Rwandese and Somali refugees resident in a Ugandan refugee settlement, as a measure of the mental health consequences of armed conflict, as well as to inform a subsequent mental health outreach program. The study population comprised a sample from 14400 (n = 519 Somali and n = 906 Rwandese) refugees resident in Nakivale refugee settlement in South Western Uganda during the year 2003.


The Posttraumatic Diagnostic Scale (PDS) and the Hopkins Symptom Checklist 25 were used to screen for posttraumatic stress disorder and depression.


Thirty two percent of the Rwandese and 48.1% of the Somali refugees were found to suffer from PTSD. The Somalis refugees had a mean of 11.95 (SD = 6.17) separate traumatic event types while the Rwandese had 8.86 (SD = 5.05). The Somalis scored a mean sum score of 21.17 (SD = 16.19) on the PDS while the Rwandese had a mean sum score of 10.05 (SD = 9.7).


Mental health consequences of conflict remain long after the events are over, and therefore mental health intervention is as urgent for post-conflict migrant populations as physical health and other emergency interventions. A mental health outreach program was initiated based on this study.