THE United Nations (UN) health agency has urged a regional meeting of health officials in South East Asia for an increased focus on the health needs of migrant populations due to their vulnerability to illnesses, including heightened risks of infectious diseases, malnutrition, substance abuse and maternal and neonatal mortality.
“Disease is universal and transcends borders. As health leaders we must tackle the health problems that affect migrant populations,” said WHO Regional Director for the South-East Asia Region, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh.
“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,” she added.
Health and migration are key concerns of WHO member countries across the region – with Thailand, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia named among the top 10 countries witnessing large movements of people in Asia.
In addition, WHO noted that migration poses greater risk and vulnerability to infectious diseases, mental health disorders, maternal and neonatal mortality, substance use, alcoholism, malnutrition, violence and non-communicable diseases.
“As migration 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,” Singh said. CLP
Noting that mobile populations pose additional challenges in countries that are already struggling to cope with day-to-day demands on their health care systems, the UN health agency stated that migrant persons also encounter obstacles to accessing quality health care as provision of health services is contingent on their legal and administrative status.
To address these issues, Dr. Khetrapal Singh highlighted the need for better systems to collect health-related data of migrants, strengthened policy and legal frameworks to increase access to health care, and creation of inclusive health systems that are sensitive to the needs of migrants.
The WHO’s regional member countries, meeting at the 69th session of the agency’s Regional Committee for South-East Asia also discussed ways to address regional health issues, including countering the spread of infectious diseases as well as spread of antimicrobial resistance.