The new WHO European health policy framework – Health 2020 – has drawn particular attention to migration and health, along with other issues related to population vulnerability and human rights. Health 2020 provides a comprehensive framework, as well as values and approaches to action that are much needed in public health work. The Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe (PHAME) project works within this framework, taking a social-determinants perspective to improve migrants’ health and reduce health inequities.

The sudden influxes of migrants to the WHO European Region have posed significant challenges to the health systems of the recipient countries and required a scaling up of basic services to facilitate the appropriate response to the essential needs of the migrants and to fulfil their fundamental human rights. The health sector’s capacity to manage these influxes and resulting crises largely depends on the readiness of the health system, adequate response capabilities and effective multisectoral coordination mechanisms.

The recent influxes underline the need to identify best practices, share experience and start an efficient policy dialogue between stakeholders. It also suggests the need for a long-term programme addressing migrants and health, consistent with the World Health Assembly resolution WHA 61.17 of 2008 and the Global Consultation on Migrant Health of 2010 in Madrid, Spain.

In response to the political crisis affecting the North-African area, a high-level meeting was held in Rome in April 2011, organized by the Italian Ministry of Health and attended by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the European Union, the International Organization of Migration (IOM), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and the Ministers of Health of Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Spain and Hungary as the holder of the EU Presidency.

The objective of the meeting was to address the challenges posed by increasing movement of displaced populations to the health systems of Mediterranean countries. The participants agreed on the need to strengthen the preparedness and response of EU countries when facing increasing demands of emerging healthcare and management of chronic diseases, with the technical assistance of ECDC and WHO. As a result, the Italian Ministry of Health supports WHO through the PHAME project in developing a systematic and evidence-based response to the public health needs of migrants.