Risk of kidney health problems among returnee Nepali migrants

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Labour migrants working in six countries across the Gulf and Malaysia are more at risk of kidney health problems compared to non-migrants from their place of origin, a Bournemouth University (BU) study has found.

The study which looked at the kidney health of 718 returnee migrants and 720 non-migrants from the Dhanusha district of Nepal found that migrant workers had a greater risk of reduced kidney function. Based on the estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR), which is one of the most important measures of kidney health function, the study found 5.8% of migrants had some sign of reduced kidney function compared to 3.6% of non-migrants.

The study also reported significantly higher lifestyle-related risks in migrants than non-migrants; for example, 38% of migrants had hypertension and 67.4% were overweight or obese according to South Asian criteria. Some work-related conditions were also found to have a significant impact on kidney health risk. Those who were working abroad for a longer period of time, working as security guards and drivers, working outdoors, and being exposed to a high-level of heat and dust were more likely to have a kidney health risk. 

Dr. Pramod Regmi, Principal Academic at Bournemouth University, said, “Labour migration has become an integral part of Nepali society. It is therefore important to measure and record these problems related to kidney health to get policymakers and other relevant stakeholders to implement culturally adapted and feasible interventions to promote healthy lifestyles and improve working conditions to ensure the safety of migrant workers.”

Dr. Nirmal Aryal, a Postdoctoral Researcher also based at BU, said, “It is perhaps the first community-based study globally on kidney health risks between comparable populations of migrants and non-migrants and the largest study ever among current Nepali migrants. To improve the kidney health of Nepalese migrant workers we must improve the lifestyle and working conditions of those working in hot weather, especially outside. Our study showed a very high prevalence of hypertension among migrants compared to non-migrants which could trigger kidney, heart, and other health issues and this should be further investigated”.   

This study could have implications on major building projects, which rely on migrant workers, such as the infrastructure built for the 2022 FIFA Men’s Football World Cup in Qatar.

Professor Edwin van Teijlingen, a health professor based at BU who researches health in Nepal, added, “The world’s interest in the health and wellbeing of migrant workers in the Middle East was great during the 2022 men’s football World Cup.  However, as the world’s media has moved on from Qatar this interest has waned. For changes to be implemented, we must continue to highlight the issues and risks for labour migrants working in these conditions.”

The study is a collaboration between Bournemouth University, Green Tara Nepal, the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Provincial Public Health Laboratory, Madesh Pradesh, and nephrologists (kidney specialists) based in Nepal.  

The study was launched in a series of discussions in Nepal in October 2023, and was funded by the UK-based Colt Foundation.

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