WHO highlights poor health of global migrants and refugees

UN agency's report says 'urgent action' is needed to protect such communities' well-being

Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says one billion migrants globally face poorer health outcomes than their host communities amid calls for "collective action" to address the root causes. EPA
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Millions of refugees around the world face poorer health outcomes than their host communities due to sub-standard living and working conditions, new analysis from the UN has revealed.

According to the first World Health Organisation World report on the health of refugees and migrants released on Wednesday, “urgent action” is needed to protect the well-being of these communities that make up about one billion people globally.

“[This report] calls for urgent and collective action to ensure they can access healthcare services that are sensitive to their needs," said the head of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "It also illustrates the pressing need to address the root causes of ill health and to radically reorient health systems to respond to a world increasingly in motion."

Based on an extensive review of literature from around the world, the 340-page report demonstrates that refugees and migrants are not inherently less healthy than host populations, but that “suboptimal health determinants” make them so.

Education, income, housing and access to services, were cited among the barriers faced during the migrants’ lives that are behind poor health outcomes.

“The experience of migration is a key determinant of health and well-being, and refugees and migrants remain among the most vulnerable and neglected members of many societies,” Dr Tedros said.

The UN health agency said the dire outlook reduced the probability that the world will achieve the health-related Sustainable Development Goals for these populations.

The experience of migration and displacement is cited as “a key factor” in a person’s health and well-being, with migrant workers less likely to use health services and more likely to have an occupational injury than non-migrant workers.

Evidence also showed that a significant number of the 169 million migrant workers globally are engaged in dirty, dangerous, and demanding jobs.

The WHO's deputy director general, Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, said “critical gaps” in data and health information for refugees and migrants made the monitoring of any progress made an additional challenge.

“If we want to change the status quo, we need urgent investments to improve the quality, relevance and completeness of health data on refugees and migrants. We need sound data collection and monitoring systems that truly represent the diversity of the world population and the experience that refugees and migrants face the world over and that can guide more effective policies and interventions,” she said.

The report encouraged looking to refugees and migrants for “innovative ideas that drive economic and social transformation.”

Noting the “extraordinary contributions” of refugee and migrant healthcare workers to the global Covid-19 front-line responses, the report highlighted how in several countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as many as half of doctors or nurses are foreign born.

“Health does not begin or end at a country’s border," said Dr Santino Severoni, director of WHO’s health and migration programme. "Migratory status should therefore not be a discriminatory factor but a policy driver on which to build and strengthen healthcare and social and financial protection. We must reorient existing health systems into integrated and inclusive health services for refugees and migrants, in line with the principles of primary health care and universal health coverage."

Updated: July 20, 2022, 10:21 PM