Washington, DC, 30 November 2018 (OPS/OMS)- Ministers of Health from the Americas and the Secretariat of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) yesterday identified a series of actions that seek to improve the response of health systems to the mass migration that is occurring in the Region. In a meeting convened at PAHO’s headquarters, short and medium-term actions were discussed on a range of topics, including epidemiological surveillance, preparation and prevention of outbreaks and ensuring access to health systems and services, among others.
PAHO has committed to develop a regional plan that provides guidance and establishes actions to address the health needs of migrants both at the country level and through bilateral agreements for joint work in border areas and transition zones, as well as through sub-regional mechanisms and initiatives. This plan will be developed in consultation with Member States.
A PAHO Regional Health and Migration Forum will also be established. This will operate as, amongst other things, a portal for health authorities in the Region to share information on, for example, epidemiology, in order to support surveillance. Technical guides will also be shared on how to address certain health issues; protocols for the management of migrants will be established; communication strategies that address rumors and stigmas associated with migration will be discussed; and capacities in border areas will be strengthened. In order to protect and maintain achievements in the Region in terms of disease elimination, access to vaccines and medicines will also be promoted through PAHO’s two joint purchasing mechanisms – the Revolving Fund, for vaccines, and the Strategic Fund for Medicines.
“These migration waves will continue to be a challenge in the medium to long-term. This is the time that we must come together in solidarity as a Region to protect the health and well-being of the peoples of the Americas, be they citizens or migrants, recognizing that diseases know no borders and that no one must be left behind,” said PAHO Director, Carissa F. Etienne.
Ministers and health authorities from the 25 countries in the Region that attended the meeting addressed issues such as how to improve health systems and services for both migrants and host populations.
“As a Region, we must decide how to provide and sustain an enabling legal, policy and programmatic environment that ensures access to health systems and services for the migrant population without stigma and discrimination, and with dignity. At the same time, we need to address the struggles of national health systems in coping with an increased demand, and with limited financial, human and infrastructural resources.”
Priority actions that were identified in this meeting include improving health surveillance and monitoring, improving access to health services and systems for both migrants and the population of host countries, as well as ensuring communication and exchange of information to avoid stigma and discrimination, and adapting policies and programs to promote and protect the health of migrants, explained Jarbas Barbosa, Deputy Director of PAHO, when presenting the conclusions of the meeting.
“There is a need to align the short-term emergency response with medium and long-term planning in order to integrate the health needs of migrants,” said Barbosa. “One of this Region’s most important values is solidarity. It is almost impossible to think of an isolated response to addressing health and migration. We must work collectively to ensure that health needs of migrants and host populations are met and that achievements are protected,” he said.
During the meeting, various ministers of health gave presentations on the issue of migrants and the impact on health care in their countries, including ministers of the Bahamas, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. Health authorities from Brazil, Chile, the United States and Panama, among others, also made interventions.
As well as this, Eduardo Stein, Joint Special Representative for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in the Region of the United Nations; Jose Samaniego, Regional Coordinator for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and Luca Dall’Oglio, Chief of Mission from the International Organization for Migration also participated in the meeting.