WHO/Europe supports the Serbian health system’s response to prolonged stay of refugees and migrants


WHO/Europe migration and health programme meeting with United Nations Country Team and nongovernmental organizations in Serbia

Around 6400 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants are estimated to be currently living in Serbia. Of these, 84% are accommodated in government facilities; the remaining 16% are staying in Belgrade and on the border with Hungary. On 21–22 November 2016, Dr Santino Severoni, WHO/Europe Coordinator of Public Health and Migration, and Dr Zsofia Pusztai, Head of the WHO Country Office in Belgrade, met with key stakeholders from the Government and international organizations to discuss the development of a contingency plan to improve the Serbian health system’s capacity to accommodate the prolonged stay of refugees and migrants, while also preparing for potential new influxes. The meeting was framed within the implementation of the Strategy and action plan for refugee and migrant health in the WHO European Region, approved by Member States in September 2016.

During the first 9 months of 2016, more than 80 000 health services were provided to refugee and migrant populations in Serbia. While primary health care is often financed with the support of international donors, all emergency and hospital care is provided and financed by the Serbian Government. During the meeting, representatives of the Ministry of Health expressed their determination to resolve the issue of unregistered migrants and provide them with dignified and safe accommodation, while ensuring medical care for all people in need, regardless of their registration status.

Strengthening public health and health system capacities for migration in Serbia

Since the beginning of the refugee and migrant crisis in Serbia, WHO/Europe has provided technical assistance to the Serbian Ministry of Health and public health system through its Country Office. It aims to support the country’s efforts to respond to the public health challenges related to migration in an efficient way.

In 2015, WHO/Europe and the Serbian Ministry of Health conducted a joint assessment mission to review the country’s health system response capacity for large-scale migration. After the mission, the Country Office supported the Ministry of Health and the Institute of Public Health in the epidemiological surveillance and monitoring of health services for refugees and migrants, and in the development of a surveillance information system. In 2016, WHO/Europe provided technical support for the control and prevention of vector-borne diseases, as well as capacity-building in relation to tuberculosis control and care.

While this technical assistance has contributed to strengthening the health system’s capacity to efficiently respond to ongoing health needs, the prolonged stay of refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations may pose additional challenges. These include overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers, treating patients with chronic and noncommunicable conditions, and providing full immunization to refugee and migrant children.