For decades, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been working to ensure that health security and human mobility go hand in hand.
Since its inception, and long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world to take a step back and work on integrating health considerations into most sectors of society, IOM has considered health a core component of all migration and population mobility issues.
In 2019, 1,300 IOM health staff implemented 208 health-related projects across 112 countries. In conflict settings, as part of pre-migration services, in preparation or response to an outbreak, along the world’s most perilous migration pathways and in many other contexts, IOM stands by migrants and the communities in which they live, to provide a wide range of critical health services, including mental health and psychosocial support.
Given the critical role that travel, trade and migration play in societies’ economic well-being, ensuring that they can go on while protecting global health security is of paramount importance. Across the board, for decades, IOM has been focusing precisely on that.
PRE-MIGRATION HEALTH ACTIVITIES FOR MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES
Following the mass displacement caused by the Second World War in Western Europe, IOM was mandated with supporting millions of people in need of resettlement, including through the provision of health services to facilitate the migration process.
To this day, IOM has established 71 migration health assessment centres where applicants can access a wide range of reliable health services including general check-ups, counselling, routine vaccinations, chest X-rays, directly-observed tuberculosis (TB) treatment, medical escorts and more, based on the destination countries requirements and the health realities in the countries of origin. Every year, more than 400,000 migrants and refugees use IOM’s health services to migrate.
As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, adaptation measures had to be implemented, testing for the disease commenced and dozens of IOM health staff were deployed to support the pandemic response within IOM and/or with public health authorities.
HEALTH SERVICES FOR FORCIBLY DISPLACED PERSONS IN CRISIS CONTEXTS
With the aim of bridging the humanitarian-development gap, IOM seeks to address acute needs while also focusing on health promotion and health system strengthening. Every year, more than 3.5 million primary health-care consultations are provided by IOM in crisis contexts, including for referrals to secondary health care, hundreds of thousands of children and adults receive routine vaccinations, and some 200,000 women benefit from ante- and post-natal care services.
In addition, mental health and psychosocial support is provided in the form of group or one-on-one counselling sessions, arts and play-based activities and other modalities, to more than 250,000 forcibly displaced women, children and men every year in emergency settings.
OUTBREAK PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE FROM A MOBILITY PERSPECTIVE
In the face of the risks posed by cholera, the Ebola virus disease, COVID-19, and other public health emergencies, IOM implements community-based approaches to outbreak preparedness and response for people on the move and the communities in which they live. A special emphasis is placed on making points of entry – such as airports, ports and land border crossings – and other locations of transit and congregation, safe, for example by setting up health screening points and handwashing facilities, by providing important health and hygiene information, and by supporting local authorities and workers with technical guidance and trainings. In many contexts, IOM also facilitates cross-border coordination between countries so people can continue to travel across borders as safely as possible, even amid an epidemic.
HEALTH SUPPORT ALONG PERILOUS MIGRATION PATHWAYS
For migrants who have already started undertaking perilous migration journeys, IOM provides health services at strategic locations for example along the migration routes used by Venezuelan migrants, between the Horn of Africa or across the Mediterranean sea. In these contexts, migrants often find themselves in dire need of medical or mental health assistance. On the flip side, IOM also supports migrants who have returned home, and may also be in need of health services, in particular mental health and psychosocial support.
HEALTH PROMOTION IN MIGRANT COMMUNITIES
With community-based approaches for behavioural change and stronger health systems, IOM carries out campaigns to raise awareness on the importance of vaccinations, handwashing, psychosocial support, detection and treatment of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, and more. In addition, technical assistance is provided to national and local health authorities who request it, with a strong emphasis on capacity-building and localisation.