Urge to Protect Health of Refugees, Migrants: Countries

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new technical brief, Addressing the needs of refugees and migrants: An inclusive approach to Universal Health Coverage, setting forth key actions and policy recommendations to safeguard and promote the health of refugees and migrants and ensure health equity for these populations.

Currently, 1 in 8 people worldwide is moving, either voluntarily or forcibly. The conditions in which they travel and settle in the new destination can have profound and long-lasting impacts on the physical and mental health and well-being of people on the move, especially if left unaddressed.

WHO promotes Universal Health Coverage (UHC) so that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship. Yet, across the globe, cultural and linguistic differences, financial barriers, stigma, discrimination, and high fees often hamper access to health services for many refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations.

“To truly achieve inclusive Universal Health Coverage, refugees and migrants should be able to enjoy timely access to high-quality, affordable health services that are sensitive to their needs and appropriate for their culture and beliefs, everywhere, at any time, whatever their motivation, circumstance, origin, or migratory status,” said Dr Santino Severoni, Director of the WHO Health and Migration Programme. “This technical brief aims to inform inclusive national health strategies, policies, and programmes that identify and respond to the specific health needs and rights of all people on the move and take us closer to health equity and global health security.”

Key recommendations

WHO’s new technical brief outlines the following actions for consideration by Governments, policymakers, programme managers in Ministries of Health and other ministries, as well as key stakeholders at national and local levels working in refugee and migrant health:

  • Accelerate progress towards achieving global targets and commitments to reach health equity for refugees and migrants. Global targets and commitments include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including UHC; the Global Compacts for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and on Refugees; the WHO’s Global Action Plan “Promoting the health of refugees and migrants, 2019-2023”.
  • Address root causes behind poor health outcomes, including critical non-medical factors such as education, income, employment and working conditions, and social support networks, by reorientating health systems into inclusive and integrated health services to meet people’s health needs throughout their lives based on a primary health care approach that empowers all individuals, families, and communities to take charge of their health.
  • Break down any institutional, administrative, and financial barriers that prevent refugees and migrants from accessing health services by providing legal and social protection through access to national health systems, social security, or insurance schemes.
  • Provide health services and programmes that respect a person’s cultural, religious, and linguistic needs, for example by training competent health professionals.
  • Monitor people’s health along their journey through health information systems that monitor and provide comprehensive data on refugees’ and migrants’ health determinants, status, and outcomes in all countries where they pass through and settle.
  • Promote refugee and migrant health as part of a “One Health” approach through public education and advocacy to ensure that refugees and migrants can access promotion and disease prevention and have continuous access to quality essential health services. The “One Health” approach optimizes the health of humans, animals and ecosystems by integrating these fields rather than keeping them separate.

About the brief

The WHO Health and Migration Programme produced this brief as part of a WHO Technical brief series published in preparation for the UN High-level Meeting on UHC to take place in September 2023, under the auspices of the UN General Assembly.

This brief also sets the stage for the discussion to be co-organized by the WHO Health and Migration Programme, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the Kingdom of Morocco later in 2023 during the third Global consultation on the health of refugees and migrants.

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