Migration and health: finding effective solutions in Turkey


Health experts and representatives of ministries of health, United Nations agencies, universities and civil societies gathered to focus on identifying effective responses to the health issues of the increasing number of refugees in Turkey during a workshop in Ankara on 26–27 March 2018.

Participants addressed different aspects of migration and health that must be taken into consideration in the country, which hosts the largest number of refugees in the world. Workshop themes ranged from the health workforce to the social determinants of health, mental health, immunization, reproductive health, noncommunicable diseases, local responses, health diplomacy and research.

This provided participants and key stakeholders with a bigger picture of the issue to inform policy-making. It reaffirmed the need to continue to prioritize building health system resilience using evidence-based interventions, with the goal of ensuring health for all and leaving no one behind.

Intersectoral response to address challenges

Participants recognized intersectoral collaboration as well as WHO’s support as key in addressing the challenges resulting from the increased number of refugees in the country. This ongoing collaboration has already led to great achievements.

Dr Hakkı Gürsöz, President of the Turkish Medicines and Medical Devices Agency and member of the Standing Committee of the Regional Committee for Europe, noted that “Migration is not a problem, but an element to be addressed with a vision of diversity. Matching the humanitarian needs of people on the move is particularly true nowadays that the world is witnessing the largest number of refugees in world history. Vaccination coverage is one among the various achievements of Turkey’s intersectoral response, and this goes along with mental health care and social policies.”

Dr Kanuni Keklik, Head of the Migration Department of the Ministry of Health, highlighted the shift in recent years towards seeing Turkey no longer as a transit country, but rather as a final destination for refugees. He explained that the country has been addressing the numerous challenges implicit in this shift together with WHO over the years, and highlighted the value of WHO’s support since 2011. Dr Keklik noted the great achievements in the country, but warned that efforts must continue.

Universal health coverage

Participants also addressed universal health coverage, which seeks to ensure that the most vulnerable are protected, within the context of Syrian refugees. Dr Pavel Ursu, WHO Representative to Turkey, described how the pre-migration conditions of Syrian refugees and migrants in Turkey, which constituted elements of emergency, increased the burden of vulnerabilities during their migration journey and upon arrival. He reiterated the need for Turkey and WHO to continue their commitment to the extension of universal health coverage for the benefit of those most in need.

Tools and evidence to support Member States

WHO and Member States have adopted some key framework and roadmaps on refugee and migrant health, and have provided evidence to address the challenges brought on by large-scale migration. Dr Santino Severoni, Coordinator of the WHO/Europe Migration and Health Programme, provided an overview of these challenges as well as the tools at hand. These include the Strategy and action plan on refugee and migrant health in the WHO European Region, the migration and health webinars, and the Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health, among many others.