A public health approach to human trafficking

Anelise Araujo

Helga Konrad, Head of the Regional Implementation Initiative on Preventing and Combating all Forms of Trafficking in Human Beings, opening the dialogue forum.

Under the name “Assumptions and Policy Responses to Human Trafficking”, the Austrian Regional Implementation Initiative on Preventing & Combating Human Trafficking has brought key stakeholders together to discuss the current status and future challenges for the fight against human trafficking. Organized under the auspices of the Austrian Federal Minister for Transport, Innovation and Technology, and the Governor of Styria, the dialogue forum took placed in Vienna, Austria, in November 2014. Participants included national experts on human trafficking, university professors and researchers, staff from the Untied Nation Office on Drugs and Crimes and staff from the WHO/Europe project Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe (PHAME).

Human trafficking, migration and public health

The discussions focused on the assessment of the current efforts in this area of work, structured according to the “4P” paradigm for combating human trafficking. This includes prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership practices. Many voices pointed out that the historical focus on strengthening the law framework for prosecution was not enough and that new angles and approaches are needed.

Human trafficking is highly interconnected to forced migration, as many migrants are exploited after leaving their countries of origin. The work of the WHO Regional Office for Europe on the Public Health Aspects of Migration (PHAME) project aims to promote migrants’ health and migrant-sensitive policies in countries. Migration movements comprise a wide range of populations, being victims of human trafficking in an especially vulnerable situation.

Victims of this crime frequently suffer physical, sexual and emotional violence by the crime perpetrators. They are exposed to different forms of health hazards due to the living and working conditions, sexually transmitted infections or mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The response to this phenomenon requires a multidisciplinary approach. In this response, public health professionals play a key role in early-interventions, identifying victims as well as individuals in a potential situation to become victims of human trafficking, and addressing their immediate, medium and long-term health needs.