Intended for healthcare professionals


The health of gypsies

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 08 November 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:1172

Lack of understanding exemplifies wider disregard of the health of minorities in Europe

  1. Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Healtha
  1. a European Centre on Health of Societies in Transition, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1E 7HT

    The arrival at Dover of groups of gypsy (Roma) families from Slovakia seeking asylum in Britain has briefly focused the attention of the British media on this poorly understood people.1 The Roma are one example, albeit a substantial one, of minority communities throughout Europe whose way of life and health needs are largely ignored by the majority communities.

    Over 5 million Roma people live in the countries of central and eastern Europe. Originally from northeastern India, they began a slow westward migration about 1000 years ago. By the fifteenth century they were well established in the Balkans, with smaller groups throughout western Europe. At first they were welcomed, claiming papal protection as penitent pilgrims, but the intolerance that accompanied the reformation and the rise of the nation state in the sixteenth century soon led to persecution. In the eighteenth century Austria-Hungary required Roma children over 5 to be taken from their parents and brought up in non-Roma families. In Romania, Roma people were kept as slaves until the 1860s. Up to 500 000 were exterminated in Nazi camps.

    In central and …

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