Learning from evidence and dismantling myths on refugee and migrant health in Turkey

On 20 June 2019, World Refugee Day, WHO presented a report on the health status of refugees and migrants in the WHO European Region in Ankara, Turkey. The Turkish Ministry of Health, the European Union Delegation to Turkey, foreign missions, academia, and national experts in the field of refugee and migrant health attended the event, which was followed by a panel discussion.

WHO presented the key findings from a review of more than 13 000 pieces of evidence on refugee and migrant health in the Region. The report highlights the progress that countries have made to protect the health of these populations, as well as the gaps that remain.

“This report results from the necessity to draw a faithful picture of the health profile of refugees and migrants in the Region to guide evidence-informed policies,” explained Dr Santino Severoni, WHO/Europe’s Acting Director of the Division of Health Systems and Public Health and Coordinator of Migration and Health.

Dr Muhammet Çömçe, Deputy Director General for Public Health of the Turkish Ministry of Health, noted, “The role of evidence is crucial in the development of quality, effective, rights-based public health interventions to protect and promote the health of migrants and host populations.”

At a time when the movement of people has become a defining phenomenon in the Region and across the globe, participants also recognized the importance of promoting an evidence-informed approach to address this challenge.

“The work which started in the European Region is triggering a worldwide movement – it is inspiring and fostering action to protect the health of refugees and migrants in other regions too. The recent adoption of the Global Action Plan to Promote the Health of Refugees and Migrants at the Seventy-second World Health Assembly is a solid example,” explained Dr Severoni.

Turkey: a leading actor in the Region

With almost 5 million refugees and migrants hosted in the country, Turkey has become an example of good practice, providing quality and tailored health-care services for these vulnerable populations. These groups are explicitly included in national health plans and strategies with an equity perspective, as recommended in the Strategy and Action Plan for Refugee and Migrant Health in the WHO European Region – an essential document guiding key areas and priority actions.

“Turkey is committed on a high scale to protect the health of refugees in the country. With the transition from an emergency response to long-term inclusion policies, the Ministry of Health of Turkey has proven a strong sense of leadership – its unique partnership model with WHO is an extraordinary example,” explained Dr Pavel Ursu, WHO Representative in Turkey.

“This is also translated into an ambitious research agenda to document all the interventions, to analyse what is being done and to create further evidence that will guide future responses in the country, the Region and the world,” he added.

The presentation of the report in Ankara came some weeks ahead of the WHO Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health, to be held in Çeşme, Turkey, on 15–19 July 2019. This 5-day course will take place for the first time in Turkey, and will unite public health experts, government officials, academics, researchers and other key regional stakeholders with the aim to strengthen their knowledge of the public health aspects of refugee and migrant health.