Call for health systems to be ‘migration aware’

Author: Jo Carlowe

Despite ever increasing attention on immigration and border control, the health impacts of migration are often overlooked.

This is the message from health experts who, in a new series from The BMJ, seek to improve understanding of the complexities of delivering better health for migrants and communities affected by migration. In their articles, they aim to tackle unhelpful stereotypes and prejudices aimed at migrants, and focus on the role of health in improving the societal response to migrants.

Developed in collaboration with the UN Migration Agency and the Migration Health and Development Research Network, the first three articles published this week, consider the migrant health system and political dimensions of navigating policy, politics, and diplomacy in this complex field.

In an editorial* to launch the series, Dr Kolitha Wickramage, the UN Migration Agencies’ Global Health Research and Epidemiology Coordinator, and colleagues argue that the health of migrants remains at the margins of policy making in countries at all income levels, while universal health coverage remains elusive for many non-citizens.

They say health systems need to become “migration aware” - integrating migration and mobility into every level of healthcare planning - and they call for guidance to help governments develop migration health strategies.

Effective policy making also requires accurate data and analysis to document realities and counter misperceptions about the scale of migration and its effects, they add.

“Better health for migrants isn’t simply a moral imperative,” they write. “It is an evidence informed, economically wise choice that will improve health for all. It is a choice that must be made in defiance of populism, prejudice, and political expediency.”

*Wickramage K, Simpson PJ, Abbasi K. Improving the health of migrants BMJ 2019; 366 :l5324