Focus on migrant health: WHO

SEAR/PR/1637

Colombo, 8 September 2016 – One in seven people globally is a migrant, refugee or an internally displaced person. With countries across South-East Asia Region host to large migrant populations, WHO today called for focused attention to address their health needs.

“Disease is universal and transcends borders and nation states. As health leaders we must tackle the health problems that affect migrant populations. We need to construct better information systems to collect data on the health issues of migrants; institute policy and legal frameworks that facilitate greater health care access; and create inclusive health systems sensitive to the needs of migrants,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, said here.

Health and migration are key concerns of Member countries across the Region, with Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia named among the top ten countries witnessing large movements of people in Asia. Migration poses greater risk and vulnerability to infectious diseases, mental health disorders, maternal and neonatal mortality, substance use, alcoholism, malnutrition, violence and noncommunicable diseases.

“As migration continues to accelerate at unprecedented levels, we are presented with an opportunity to come together as a Region to ensure that migrants are able to access adequate health coverage,” Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

Mobile populations pose additional challenges to countries often already struggling to cope with day-to-day demands on their health care systems. Migrants also encounter obstacles to accessing quality health care, as provision of health services is contingent on their legal and administrative status.

At the WHO Regional Committee meeting here, Member countries shared experiences in addressing this growing regional issue, including the potential of infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance spread. In response to the issue, for example, Thailand has formulated a ‘Healthy Borders’ approach in the Greater Mekong Subregion, a border area with Laos and Cambodia, which focuses on the prevention and control of tuberculosis, HIV, and other prevalent communicable diseases.

Additional concerns raised and discussed included the fact that mobile and migrant populations are uniquely vulnerable to contracting malaria. In February 2016, five South-East Region Member countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Nepal – came together to enhance cross-border collaboration on malaria elimination efforts.

The Regional Committee is WHO South-East Asia Region’s highest decision-making body, and includes health ministers and senior health ministry officials of the 11 member countries of the Region – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

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