Act Now On Migrant Health, IOM Tells UN General Assembly

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New York
Thursday, September 27, 2018

The UN Migration Agency has added its voice to the call for better healthcare in Europe and Central Asia.

At the first of three IOM side events on health at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly today (27/9) in New York, IOM Regional Director Argentina Szabados noted that diseases like TB, HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis “don’t carry passports but can move from country to country”.

Ms Szabados, whose office covers South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia was speaking  at a high-level event to discuss the UN’s Common Position on combatting the three diseases, which affect millions across the Europe region.

“Four in ten people living with HIV in the European Economic Area are migrants”, she told the expert panel at UN Headquarters, “This region is the only one where new infections of HIV are on the increase, where multi-drug resistant TB is eroding health gains, and where people are more prone to viral hepatitis. This is particularly true of the east of the region, and of all the vulnerable groups, migrants are at highest risk”.

The theme of the discussion centred on leaving no-one behind in access to healthcare. Ms Szabados stated that not only are migrants being left behind, they also leave everything behind when they set out on often-perilous journeys: “They leave their homes, their families, their possessions, their culture, their language. Sometimes they leave their identity, or even their very lives”.

The panel discussion was chaired by WHO’s Dr Masoud Dara and the co-panelists included Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of the Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases at the WHO,  and Prof Stanislav Špánik, State Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Slovak Republic.

Dr Emiroglu noted that despite a decline in TB rates, Multi-Drug Resistant TB in on the increase. “One thousand Europeans fall ill with TB every day,” she said “This is an unacceptable number. When it comes to HIV it is of even more concern: two million people are living with HIV, 80 per cent of them in the East of the region and Central Asia. Only one third of them are getting the treatment they need.”

Ms Szabados said the Global Compact for Migration, which will be ratified by Member States at a special session of the UN in Morocco in December, gave the world a migrant-centred approach to the challenges posed by migration, including health challenges, “for the first time in human history”.

Noting that migration was as old as humanity, she stressed that it was neither practical nor desirable to reduce human mobility and Member States must thus work towards eradicating diseases.

“We must not demonize the disease, we must cure, inform and prevent, and we must give migrants, especially the young, tools to protect themselves. Apart from the rights issue, which is the most salient, keeping migrants healthy makes simple economic sense”, she concluded.