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Refugees require ‘urgent health response’

Migrants do not increase disease risk, says WHO

Jo Carlowe

Friday, 04 September 2015

The large influx of refugees and migrants to countries in Europe needs “an urgent response to their health needs”, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced.

WHO has stressed that “actions are needed between and within countries as well as among sectors”. 

Adequate standards of care for refugees and migrants into Europe are not only important for population health “but are fundamental for protecting and promoting their human rights as well as those of the host communities”, the organisation has stated.

In a statement, it adds: “This is in the full spirit of Health 2020, WHO/Europe's framework for health and well-being and of World Health Assembly resolution WHA61.17 on migrants' health, a milestone in WHO global work in this area.”

To date in 2015, about 350,000 refugees and migrants have reached European countries, adding to the almost 2 million who have taken shelter in Turkey.

WHO also decries the idea that refugees increase the spread of communicable or other infectious diseases.

“In spite of a common perception that there is an association between migration and the importation of infectious diseases, there is no systematic association. Communicable diseases are primarily associated with poverty. Refugees and migrants are exposed mainly to the infectious diseases that are common in Europe, independently of migration. The risk that exotic infectious agents, such as Ebola virus or Middle East respiratory coronavirus (MERS-CoV), will be imported into Europe is extremely low, and experience has shown that, when it occurs, it affects regular travellers, tourists or health care workers rather than refugees or migrants,” it states.

The organisation adds: “While we should remain vigilant, this should not be our main focus. We should focus on ensuring that each and every person on the move has full access to a hospitable environment and, when needed, to high-quality health care, without discrimination on the basis of gender, age, religion, nationality or race. This is also the safest way to ensure that the resident population is not unnecessarily exposed to imported infectious agents. WHO supports policies that provide health care services to migrants and refugees, irrespective of their legal status.”

The WHO Regional Office for Europe is currently providing technical and on-site assistance to affected countries, with assessment of and support to their capacity to address the health needs of refugees and migrants. In addition, the Regional Office is providing policy advice on contingency planning, training of health personnel and delivery of emergency kits, each covering the needs of a population of 10,000 for 3 months.

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