WHO Europe head calls for equal, affordable healthcare for migrants, refugees

‘Good health and well-being under the umbrella of universal health coverage should be a reality for all of us,’ says WHO Europe regional director.

WHO Europe head calls for equal, affordable healthcare for migrants, refugees

Everyone, including migrants and immigrants, has the right to equal and affordable health care, according to a top official at the UN’s health agency.

“Health and the best care possible should not be a matter of origin, nationality, or superstar status. Every single one of us should be entitled to affordable and quality care. This includes refugees and migrants,” said Hans Henri Kluge, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Europe regional director, in an op-ed ahead of a high-level meeting on health and migration set to take place on March 17-18 in Turkey's metropolis of Istanbul.

Pointing to the recent Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, Kluge said that every player, including English Premier League superstars Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah, got the same care and attention when they were injured, adding: “This is the way it should be, for everyone.”

He said that like the Premier League, European region health care also relies heavily on migrants, as an “impressive 13 percent of essential workers on the frontlines of COVID-19 response in the EU are migrants.”

“Without them, many of our health systems would be on the brink of collapse,” said Kluge, adding that a third of the doctors in the UK and 20% in Germany are migrants as well as 10% of nurses in Italy.

‘Team spirit and sense of fair play needed’

“To unleash the full public health potential of migration and to improve health for all, we need team spirit, a sense of fair play, political commitment and partnerships across countries and regions,” said Kluge.

“The (COVID-19) pandemic has clearly and cruelly shown us that pre-existing inequalities leave some people more exposed than others. Diseases and viruses travel and affect us regardless of borders or passports,” he added.

An honest and transparent conversation with everyone represented at the table is crucial to make better health a reality for refugees and migrants as for everyone else, said Kluge, adding that next month’s high-level summit aims to mobilize political commitment and find a common way forward.

“Good health and well-being under the umbrella of universal health coverage should be a reality for all of us, on and off the field, no matter who we are or where we come from,” he argued.

The meeting will be hosted by WHO/Europe and will be attended by health ministers and representatives of the 53 member states of the WHO European Region.

The meeting will discuss strategic priorities for health and migration beyond 2022, according to a WHO statement.

“Representatives of refugee and migrant groups, partner organizations and the WHO African and Eastern Mediterranean regions will be involved to encourage participatory dialogue and interregional collaboration as part of a whole-of-route approach,” it added.

Hüseyin Demir

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