Responding to the Health Needs of Survivors of Human Trafficking: A Systematic Review

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Despite the multiple physical and psychological health consequences associated with human trafficking, there is little evidence-based guidance available for health providers on assessing and meeting the health needs of trafficked people. We aimed to review literature that provided guidance or research on care provision for people who had been trafficked.


We conducted a systematic review and qualitative analysis of peer-reviewed and grey literature. Data sources included electronic databases, reference list screening, citation tracking, and expert recommendations. Documents were included if they reported on: 1) male or females (adults or children) who were currently or had previously been trafficked; 2) health interventions or service provision; 3) primary, secondary, tertiary or specialist post-trafficking services; and 4) World Bank high income countries. Two reviewers independently screened and quality appraised documents. Framework analysis was used to analyse extracted data.


Forty-four documents were included, 19 of which reported findings of primary studies and nine of which exclusively addressed children. Evidence to inform the identification, referral and care of trafficked people is extremely limited. Within current literature on survivor identification, key indicators included signs of physical and sexual abuse, absence of documentation, and being accompanied by a controlling companion. Findings highlighted the importance of interviewing possible victims in private, using professional interpreters, and building trust. For provision of care, key themes included the importance of comprehensive needs assessments, adhering to principles of trauma-informed care, and cultural sensitivity. Further prominent themes were the necessity of multi-agency working strategies and well-defined referral pathways.


Human trafficking survivors require healthcare that is trauma-informed and culturally sensitive to their particular needs. Coordination is needed between health providers and statutory and voluntary organisations. Future research should generate empirical evidence to develop trafficking indicators for use by health providers, alongside validated screening tools, and evaluate the effectiveness of psychological interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number320
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2016


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