One of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to achieve universal health coverage. Nonetheless, the world’s one billion migrants are in a vulnerable situation as health systems struggle to adapt.
Because of this, public health officials meet in Colombo, Sri Lanka between 21-23 February for the 2nd Global Consultation on Migrant Health. The platform offered government and partners an opportunity for multi-sectorial dialogue to commit with this problematic.
They concluded that addressing the needs of migrants reduces long-term health and social costs, enhances health security and contributes to social and economic development. Health systems must them be strengthened to provide non-discriminatory, equitable and migrant-centered health services.
Today, as the World Health Organization records, there are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world; 250 million international migrants and 763 million internal migrants. “Some people migrate voluntarily; while others are forcibly displaced, fleeing conflict and war. This has important implications for the health sector,” added the Agency.
Similarly, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) stated, “When one combines the volume of international migration, the large scale of internal migration of an estimated 740 million people worldwide, and the unprecedented and protracted displacement of populations due to unresolved conflicts and natural disasters, we can see that there is urgent need to address the cumulative health needs of people on the move.”
Even if there are clear economic benefits of migration, as the global volume of remittances sent home by migrants surpasses half a trillion dollars in 2016 they are still stigmatized. Large groups of migrants remain at risk of being socially excluded, discriminated and exploited, as well as being associated with the risk and stigma of importing disease, reported the IOM.
In the fight for providing better health services for migrants, Sri Lanka is providing leadership. According to WHO it is one of the few countries in the world to have a National Migrant Health Policy which was introduced in 2008. They recognize the contribution of migrants both to national and international development, added the agency,
“Almost 2 million Sri Lankans work overseas, the country hosts a large number of immigrants and receives 2 million tourists annually. Ensuring the health of these migrants and the country’s own population is a top priority.”
During the meeting, health leaders adopted the Colombo Statement, which calls for international collaboration to improve the health and well-being of migrants and their families. They aim to address the health challenges of increasing mobile populations.
“Migrant health must be looked at as a global agenda and the SDGs should be interpreted by linking the call to facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration and mobility of people… with the achievement of universal health coverage,” stated Dr. Davide Mosca, Director of IOM’s Migration Health Division.
Also, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh said, “Protecting the health of mobile populations is a public health and human rights imperative. Ensuring the highest attainable standard of health for all, including migrants and refugees, is something we must all strive towards, and is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of leaving no one behind.”
The momentum gained by the statement will be carried forward to the World Health Assembly, WHO’s annual meeting in May 2017, where 194 countries will deliberate on priority actions to protect migrants right to health.