Migrants line up to get on a bus to Costa Rica from a temporary humanitarian campsite in the village of Penita, Panama | Photo: EPA/Bienvenido Velasco
Migrants line up to get on a bus to Costa Rica from a temporary humanitarian campsite in the village of Penita, Panama | Photo: EPA/Bienvenido Velasco

There have never been so many people on the move worldwide, and they must be guaranteed healthcare, says the World Health Organization (WHO). This is why they just approved a five-year global action plan for migrant health.

During its General Assembly, which concluded in Geneva on Tuesday, all WHO member states accepted a five-year global action plan for migrant health to guarantee the right to health of migrants worldwide. 

WHO said between 2000 and 2017, the number of migrants rose from 173 million to 258 million, an increase of 85 million people. At the moment, 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homeland, the highest number ever, with 25.4 million people who have refugee status. There are also 760 million people who have been displaced within their own country.

In 2017, international migrants made up 3.4 percent of the world's population. In 2000, that figure was 2.8 percent. 

Healthcare for people in transit

The WHO's global migrant health plan focuses on providing universal health coverage to refugees and migrants. 

Among the goals spelled out in the report: Strengthening the humanitarian response and increased monitoring of the health of people who are forced to move. 

Every country is asked to report, on a voluntary basis, on the initiatives taken in accord with the plan. 

There are many obstacles to receiving healthcare for refugees and migrants, in particular when they in transit, for economic factors, language barriers, administrative obstacles, detention, discrimination, and poor understanding of their rights with regard to health services," WHO said. 

Fight against misinformation 

Another goal of the WHO is to fight against false myths linked to migrant health.

"Refugees and migrants can come from areas in which infectious diseases are endemic," WHO said. "This, however, doesn't necessarily mean they constitute an infection risk for host populations. They could rather be at risk for contracting infectious diseases, including those linked to food or water, as a result of the difficulties of their journey or factors associated with disadvantaged living or working conditions, together with a lack of access to basic health services," WHO explained.

The connection between migrants and disease is a myth that has been debunked by various studies.

"The stereotype of migrants as disease carriers is perhaps one of the most widespread and damaging," said experts from the UCL-Lancet Commission recently. "Nevertheless, no systematic association exists, and evidence shows that the risk of transmission of infections from migrant populations to host populations is generally low."
 

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