J Epidemiol Community Health 54:864-869 doi:10.1136/jech.54.11.864
  • Public health policy and practice

The health of the Roma people: a review of the published literature

  1. Steve Hajioff,
  2. Martin McKee
  1. European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT
  1. Dr Hajioff (steve.hajioff{at}
  • Accepted 8 May 2000


BACKGROUND The Roma people originated in northern India and have been known in Europe for nearly a thousand years. For much of that time they have been the subjects of discrimination and oppression, culminating in the extermination of half a million Roma in the Nazi death camps. While it is widely believed that the health of Roma people is often poorer than the majority population, these inequalities remain largely unresearched.

METHODS Published literature on the health of the Roma people was identified using Medline. Opinion pieces were excluded, as were papers relating to anthropometry and to genetic markers. The resultant papers were analysed by country of study and by disease type or care group.

RESULTS Some 70% of papers identified related to just three countries; Spain and the Czech and Slovak Republics. Much literature concentrates upon communicable disease or reproductive health. The limited evidence suggests increased morbidity from non-communicable disease, but there is little published on this topic. Evidence on health care, though fragmentary, suggests poorer access to health services and uptake of preventative care.

DISCUSSION Published research on the health needs of the Roma population is sparse. The topics that have received attention suggest a focus on concepts of contagion or social Darwinism, indicating a greater concern with the health needs of the majority populations with which they live. There is a need for both further research into the health of Roma people; with particular emphasis on non-communicable disease; and also for interventions that improve Roma health. Such research must, however, be handled with sensitivity, recognising the social and political context of the society concerned.


  • Funding: this review was performed as part of a project funded by the World Bank. However the World Bank can accept no responsibility for the views expressed.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.