Differences in primary health care use among sub-Saharan African immigrants in Norway: a register-based study

  • Esperanza Diaz,
  • Vivian N. Mbanya Email author,
  • Abdi A. Gele and
  • Bernadette Kumar
BMC Health Services ResearchBMC series – open, inclusive and trusted201717:509


Received: 25 November 2016 Accepted: 21 June 2017 Published: 28 July 2017



Immigrants’ utilization of primary health care (PHC) services differs from that of the host populations. However, immigrants are often classified in broad groups by continent of origin, and the heterogeneity within the same continent may hide variation in use among immigrant groups at a national level. Differences in utilization of PHC between sub-Saharan African immigrants have not received much attention.


Registry-based study using merged data from the National Population Register and the Norwegian Health Economics Administration. African immigrants and their descendants registered in Norway in 2008 (36,366 persons) where included in this study. Using χ2 test and logistic regression models, we assessed the differences in the use of PHC, including general practitioner (GP) and emergency room (ER) services, and the distribution of morbidity burden for immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Gambia. For the analyses, we used the number of visits and medical diagnoses from each consultation registered by the physician.


Among the total studied population, 66.1% visited PHC within 1 year. The diagnoses registered were similar for all four immigrants groups, regardless of country of origin. Compared to immigrants from Somalia, the age and sex adjusted odds ratios (OR) for use of GP were significantly lower for Ethiopians (OR 0.91; 0.86–0.97), Eritreans (OR 0.85; 0.79–0.91), and Gambians (OR 0.88; 0.80–0.97). Similarly, we also observed lower use of ER among Ethiopians (OR 0.88; 0.81–0.95), Eritreans (OR 0.56; 0.51–0.62) and Gambians (OR 0.81; 0.71–0.92). However, immigrants from Somalia reduced their use of PHC with longer duration of stay in Norway. Differences between groups persisted after further adjustment for employment status.


Despite the similarities in diagnoses among the sub-Saharan African immigrant groups in Norway, their use of PHC services differs by country of origin and length of stay. It is important to assess the reasons for the differences in these groups to identify barriers and facilitators to access to healthcare for future interventions.


Emigrants and immigrants Sub-Saharan Africa Norway Primary health care