Increasing movement of displaced populations in the Mediterranean countries of the European Union: future challenges for health systems
Concluding remarks from a high-level meeting
Rome, 14 April 2011
The high-level meeting “Increasing movement of displaced populations in the Mediterranean countries of the European Union: future challenges for the health systems” ended yesterday with a series of concluding remarks. These highlighted the need to strengthen capacity on public health preparedness and response in originating and recipient countries and to enhance international cooperation in the light of increases in migrant populations “both in relation to the current Mediterranean crisis and to the emerging of new, presently unpredictable, scenarios”.
Organized by the Ministry of Health of Italy, in collaboration with the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Consumers, and with the support of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the meeting brought together high-level officials from Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta and Spain, together with the representatives of the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, the International Organization for Migration and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Since January 2011, 27 000 migrants have reached Europe, 80% of them from Tunisia. The concluding remarks stated: “Even though at this point in time such migration has not produced health problems of the type and size that would constitute an alarm for the health systems of the Mediterranean countries of the European Union (EU), and of Europe in general, there is a need to be aware of the health needs of large displaced populations made of heterogeneous people [and] to take suitable measures to be able to cope with such possible needs, which may include surveillance systems for infectious diseases, including emerging and/or re-emerging diseases.”
As a key outcome of discussions, it was acknowledged that every migrant, irrespective of legal status, should receive timely access to essential health services; this is also a prerequisite for protecting the health of the population in hosting countries. At the same time, assisting the countries in conflict in scaling up national health capacity, including through increased economic support and training for health personnel, is considered a key step to ensuring access to health care both in countries of origin and of transit.
In particular, participants agreed on the following main principles:
- to guarantee all migrants the right to health and avoid the stigma from misattributed public health threats to the influx of populations (in high-income countries, the risk of a significant outbreak of imported tropical diseases such as malaria, cholera, advanced tuberculosis or viral haemorrhagic fevers is largely unlikely);
- to strengthen the preparedness and response of EU countries to face a possible increase in health care needs for chronic diseases, to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases and to address environmental vulnerability, with the technical assistance of ECDC and WHO;
- to enhance international cooperation and solidarity on the public health aspects of the crisis, with the support of the European Commission, WHO regional offices and the United Nations coordination framework, also involving civil society;
- to improve the gathering and sharing of information through existing instruments (International Health Regulations and the Early Warning Response System) as well as research, analysis and training capacity on the health effects of migration; and
- to explore the allocation of financial resources at the European level for health preparedness and response on the implications of large migrations (to be debated at the next Council meeting of EU Health Ministers in Luxembourg on 6 June 2011).
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