WHO scaling up collaboration with Hellenic Ministry of Health in view of changing migration patterns

WHO/Matteo Dembech

In 2016, 144 000 people have already arrived in Greece, of which 96 have died and 36 are missing. In the last few years Greece has responded to massive influxes of transiting migrants. However, now the country is working out practical measures on how to host approximately 40 000 - 60 000 refugees long-term.

Nearly 60% of refugees and migrants arriving in Greece are women and minors, and 1 in 3 are children, compared with 1 in 10 in September 2015. The age distribution of the population arriving in 2016 suggests an increase in specific health needs – particularly pregnant women, breastfeeding women and unvaccinated children – and tailored responses.

Such a change requires an adjustment of the health system response to immigration. The Ministry of Health of Greece is preparing new scenarios, and the WHO Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe (PHAME) project is providing technical assistance.

The PHAME project is working in collaboration with WHO/Europe's Division of Health Systems and Public Health and the Division of Communicable Diseases, Health Security and Environment and in coordination with the Hellenic Ministry of Health. They conducted rapid visits to Athens, Lesvos, Chios and Idomeni collecting data and reviewing public health needs.

During the visit, Refugee Response Coordination meetings, co-chaired by national authorities and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, were held at national and local levels. A series of preliminary meetings to analyse new scenarios and priorities took place with:

  • the Ministry of Health
  • International Organization for Migration
  • Médecins du Monde
  • Médecins Sans Frontières
  • Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
  • Red Cross
  • Women and Health Alliance International.

Priorities of the Ministry of Health

The results of the review served as the base for a discussion between WHO and the Secretary-General of the Hellenic Ministry of Health in order to identify priority areas of collaboration to properly address contingency situations and prepare for possible scenarios. Among the priorities were:

  • the strengthening of coordination to respond to the health needs of refugees and migrants
  • scale-up of immunization services
  • optimization of a national health plan
  • increased health promotion.