Geneva Health Forum – What we Learnt at the Migration & Health Session

Migration affects every region of the world. According to WHO there is an estimated 1 billion migrants around the world today, of which 214 million are international migrants outside their country. Migrants face many issues such as harsh climatic, health and humanitarian conditions. In fact, one of the most crucial and crosscutting issue faced by governments and civil society is migrants’ health and health matters associated with migration.

On 20 April, 2016 migration experts, researchers, academicians, humanitarian experts and other public health specialists gathered at the Geneva Health forum 2016 to call for innovative solutions for health issues of migrants. Prof. Antoine Flahault, co-director of the Centre Virchow-Villermé, Paris and director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva underlined that today there is strong need to foster innovative thinking about migration and health. The panel was moderated by Pierre Fournier, school of Public health – university of Montreal and focused on the health issues of forced migration.

Perspectives from the humanitarian field – Burden of diseases

Highlighting the poor health conditions of migrants across Europe, Isabelle Polisset from the French Red Cross in the panel shared the real burden of diseases and public health challenges faced by migrants. She presented the study findings from a refugee camp (at Grande-Synthe) in France that among other health issues; there is a high rate of respiratory infections (37.7%), trauma (16.7%) and psychological problems.

In addition, other prevalent issues such as maternal and child health and communicable diseases were also highlighted. It was also emphasized that migrants face issues of access to healthcare services. Lack of monitoring, surveillance, inconsistent political policies, health coverage, and lack of language and transcultural skills exacerbate the problem.

Academic viewpoints

Michel Bera (Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, Paris) whose talk was on the anticipation of massive immigration in the years ahead, recommended for concrete actions in the academic settings to help refugees live a better life. He also added that migration is not a new problem but a historical one that requires serious attention and care.

Albrecht Jahn, University of Heidelberg, Institute of Public Health, Germany highlighted migrant health from a universal health coverage perspective. Albrecht Jahn criticized the sustainable developmental goals did not adequately address migration and relevant health challenges. He pointed that access to universal health coverage regardless of legal status of migrants is crucial in this regard.

Dr. Yves-Laurent Jackson, university of Geneva, Institute of Global Health emphasized that there is a need to innovatively adapt to ever changing context by thinking innovative strategies to deal with rise of unfamiliar and emerging diseases among migrants. He also stressed it is important to address cumulative burden of diseases covering communicable, non-communicable and mental health issues. He also added that it is equally significant to care for the carers by encouraging teamwork and healthy working places.

Key elements of success

Finally Dr. Jackson shared the key elements of success to sufficiently handle the problem of migration and health is having high level of political support, coordination, inter-sectoral collaboration among housing, education, employment and health; and strong civil society involvement.


Centre Virchow-Villermé is organizing an event in Berlin to define research priorities

In the context of forced migration it is equally important to discuss climate migrants. Millions of people have been affected by climate change conditions. In the years to come, migration dynamics will change as a consequence of climate change. Natural disasters such as cyclones, floods, droughts and the rising sea level that have already threatened food security in some regions of the world and is also a major source of spreading vector-borne diseases.

In order to better understand the health issues of climate migration, through a transdisciplinary approach, Centre Virchow-Villermé ir organizing an event on 1oth June at the French Embassy Berlin, Germany. This conference unites scientists and experts. The series of presentations and panel discussions will cover different aspects on the topic and help define research priorities in Global Health for the future.


By Shukrullah Ahmadi, research assistant intern

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