Tasker, A.J. and Braam, D., 2021. Positioning zoonotic disease research in forced migration: a systematic literature review of theoretical frameworks and approaches. PLoS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254746


The emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases are driven by complex interactions between health, environmental, and socio-political systems. Human movement is considered a significant and increasing factor in these processes, yet forced migration remains an understudied area of zoonotic research–due in part to the complexity of conducting interdisciplinary research in these settings. We conducted a systematic review to identify and analyze theoretical frameworks and approaches used to study linkages between forced migration and zoonotic diseases. We searched within eight electronic databases: ProQuest, SCOPUS, Web of Science, PubMed, PLoSOne, Science Direct, JSTOR, and Google Scholar, to identify a) research articles focusing on zoonoses considering forced migrants in their study populations, and b) forced migration literature which engaged with zoonotic disease. Both authors conducted a full-text review, evaluating the quality of literature reviews and primary data using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) model, while theoretical papers were evaluated for quality using a theory synthesis adapted from Bonell et al. (2013). Qualitative data were synthesized thematically according to the method suggested by Noblit and Hare (1988). Analyses of the 23 included articles showed the increasing use of interdisciplinary frameworks and approaches over time, the majority of which stemmed from political ecology. Approaches such as EcoHealth and One Health were increasingly popular, but were more often linked to program implementation and development than broader contextual research. The majority of research failed to acknowledge the heterogeneity of migrant populations, lacked contextual depth, and insufficient acknowledgments of migrant agency in responding to zoonotic threats. Addressing the emergence and spread of zoonoses in forced migration contexts requires more careful consideration and use of interdisciplinary research to integrate the contributions of social and natural science approaches. Robust interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks are an important step for better understanding the complex health, environment, and socio-political drivers of zoonotic diseases in forced migration. Lessons can be learned from the application of these approaches in other hard-to-reach or seldom-heard populations.

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