European Parliament discusses universal health coverage for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants

As Europe is currently experiencing an unprecedented influx of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) political group in the European Parliament invited WHO/Europe in April 2016 to discuss the concept of universal health coverage and access to care in this particular context.

The meeting was hosted by Jordi Sebastià, Member of the European Parliament (Greens/EFA). It provided an opportunity for WHO/Europe to provide an overview of the work undertaken by the Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe (PHAME) programme since 2012 in:

  • assisting countries through technical assistance and policy advice to strengthen their public health and health systems towards the integration of the health needs of these mobile populations;
  • strengthening the health research agenda by synthesizing the available evidence and making information on public health and migration comparable across the 53 countries of the WHO European Region;
  • advocating for the right to health of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants through advocacy and communication activities such as the quarterly PHAME newsletter; and
  • moving forward the normative and policy agenda in the European Region, with the ongoing development of a European strategy and action plan on refugee and migrant health to be submitted for approval to the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in September 2016.

The European Commission referred to different funding initiatives for migration health-related projects. It presented the "Personal health record" a booklet prepared by the Commission, together with the International Organisation for Migration and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, to evaluate migrants' medical needs and help reconstruct their medical history upon arrival.

No universal health without refugee and migrant health

WHO/Europe stressed that there is no public health argument against the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe. Infectious diseases are not systematically correlated to migration. These are, however, primarily associated with poverty. In this regard, ensuring access to health care, as well as adequate living conditions for these mobile populations is the best way of protecting the health of all.

The financial aspect of the concept of universal health coverage was also discussed at the Parliament, with particular emphasis to its links to equity (fairness and justice), and the need for more public funding in order to ensure quality of health care services, adequate financial protection mechanisms and thus achieve universal health coverage.