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Faith Nyasuguta 

Across the globe, millions of refugees and migrants are living  in vulnerable situations.

Following this, they face poorer health outcomes compared to their host communities, particularly where living and working conditions are sub-standard, according to the first WHO World report on the health of refugees and migrants. 

This has dire consequences with the high probability that the world will not achieve the health-related Sustainable Development Goals for these populations.

“Today there are some one billion migrants globally, about one in eight people. The experience of migration is a key determinant of health and wellbeing, and refugees and migrants remain among the most vulnerable and neglected members of many societies,” said Dr Tedros.

A refugee camp in East Africa /UNICEF/

The quoted report is the first to offer a global review of refugee and migrant health; it calls for urgent and collective action to ensure they can access health care services sensitive to their needs. 

It goes ahead to illustrate 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 report demonstrates that refugees and migrants are not inherently less healthy than host populations.”

It is, rather, the impact of the various suboptimal health determinants, including education, income, housing, access to services, compounded by linguistic, cultural, legal and other barriers and the interaction of these during the life course, that are behind poor health outcomes.

The report reiterates that the experience of migration and displacement is a key factor in a person’s health and wellbeing, especially when combined with other determinants. 

Most refugees and migrants are living in vulnerable situations /UNICEF/

For instance, a recent meta-analysis of over 17 million participants from 16 countries across five WHO regions found that, compared with non-migrant workers, migrant workers were less likely to use health services and more likely to have an occupational injury. 

Evidence pointed at a significant number of the 169 million migrant workers globally engaging in dirty, dangerous, and demanding jobs and are at greater risk of occupational accidents, injuries, and work-related health problems than their non-migrant counterparts, conditions exacerbated by their often limited or restricted access to and use of health services.

The study demonstrated critical gaps in data and health information systems regarding the health of refugees and migrants – while data and evidence are plentiful, they are fragmented and not comparable across nations and over time. 

Despite these mobile populations being sometimes identifiable in global datasets used for SDG monitoring, health data is often missing from migration statistics and migratory status variables are often missing from health statistics. 

This makes it difficult to determine and track progress for refugees and migrants towards the health-related SDGs.

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Faith Nyasuguta

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