Prioritizing the health of refugees and migrants: an urgent, necessary plan of action for countries and regions in our interconnected world
Amid multiple ongoing humanitarian crises triggered by conflict, natural disasters, and climate change, 3 WHO regional offices brought together governments, civil society including refugee and migrant voices, and health partners at a high-level meeting in Istanbul this week to craft a joint new vision addressing the health and well-being of refugees and migrants as well as host communities, considering both current realities and anticipating future opportunities and challenges.
The gathering was convened by the WHO Regional Office for Europe with the support of the WHO regional offices for Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean, encompassing 122 countries and territories.
From the Sahel to Syria and now Ukraine, all 3 WHO regions have witnessed large-scale migration and displacement of populations in recent years, both within their geographies and beyond.
“Regardless of the myriad factors that propel migration, it is not a modern or distinct phenomenon, but an enduring, enriching and vital part of our societies, an essential ingredient in how we – as communities and people – thrive and develop,” noted Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Together with refugees and migrants, we need to renew our public health approach, to realize that we are all better off when all of us – regardless of status – have access to health.”
In the past 3 weeks alone, more than 3 million people have fled the war in Ukraine, with WHO and partners seeking to support urgent health needs both within Ukraine and in surrounding countries that are receiving the refugees. Although this week’s meeting was planned long before the Ukraine emergency, the situation underscores the timely and urgent nature of the Istanbul discussions.
“What we are seeing in Ukraine is unfortunately all too familiar in Africa. Millions of Africans are living far from their homes, displaced by conflicts and other humanitarian crises,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “While some refugees and migrants go to Europe and other regions, almost 75% of migrants from countries in sub-Saharan Africa remain within the continent. Africa has learned many hard lessons on how to cope with the health needs of migrants and they are integrated into our proposed 5+5 approach – 5 priority actions based on 5 lessons learned.”
Five lessons learned
- We must work across sectors and include refugee and migrant voices.
- We must recognize migration as an asset, not a burden.
- We must address migration through a whole-of-route approach.
- Health systems must be inclusive and people-centred.
- We must recognize One Health – linking the health of humans, animals and the planet – and its intersection with migration.
Five priority actions
- Ensure that migrants and refugees have universal health coverage.
- Implement inclusive health emergency policies.
- Promote social inclusion and reduce inequalities between people.
- Strengthen migration health governance and data gathering.
- Support new partnerships and innovative ways of working.
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