Transnational social networks, health, and care: a systematic narrative literature review

I. Roosen*, S. Salway, H.A. Osei-Kwasi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


While transnational social ties and exchanges are a core concern within migration studies, health researchers have often overlooked their importance. Continuous and circular exchanges of information within transnational networks, also defined as social remittances, facilitate the diffusion of innovations, potentially driving contemporary social and cultural change. Influences on health, wellbeing, and care-seeking are important, but under-researched, dimensions for consideration. We undertook a systematic narrative evidence synthesis to describe the current state of knowledge in this area and to identify gaps and future directions for health researchers to take. Between April 2017 and May 2019, an iterative series of searches in Medline, Embase, PsycINFO and PubMed, plus backward and forward citation searches identified 1173 potential papers. Screening resulted in 36 included papers, eighteen focused on migrant populations and eighteen on those who remain behind. The top three health topics were health-seeking strategies, sexual and reproductive health issues, and healthcare support. And, while not always explicitly identified, mental health and wellbeing was a further prominent, cross-cutting theme. Articles on migrant populations were all conducted in the global North and 13 out of 18 used qualitative methods. Five main themes were identified: therapeutic effect of the continuing social relationships, disrupted social relationships, hybridisation of healthcare, facilitation of connections to healthcare providers, and factors encouraging or undermining transnational social exchanges. Papers concerned with those who remain behind were mainly focused on the global South and used a mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches. Four main themes were identified: transnational transfer of health-related advice, norms, and support; associations between migrant linkages and health behaviours/outcomes; transnational collective transfer of health knowledge; and power and resistance in exchanges. Findings suggest that transnational social exchanges can both support and undermine the health of migrants and those who remain behind. This review confirms that the volume and quality of research in this area must be increased so that health policy and practice can be informed by a better understanding of these important influences on the health of both migrants and those who remain behind.
Original languageEnglish
Article number138
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2021


  • Social remittances
  • Transnational social exchanges
  • Health
  • Wellbeing
  • Migrants
  • Remain behind
  • Transnational networks
  • TIES


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