Posted: Monday, October 12, 2020. 3:49 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr. Carissa Etienne, and Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Antonio Vitorino, have inked an agreement to coordinate interventions in countries of the Americas addressing health and migration, including their specific needs in regional health and development policy, ultimately benefiting more than 70 million in the region.
Dr. Etienne explained, “Migrants are one of the most vulnerable populations in our Region, facing huge barriers when it comes to accessing the health care they need… The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder that no one is safe until everyone is safe, which is why this agreement between PAHO and IOM has never been so timely and so important.”
Drivers of migration in the Americas include social and economic inequalities, political instability, conflict, and environmental disasters. While many countries in the Region are sources of emigration to high-income countries in the Americas and Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean are also experiencing an increase in migrants from Africa and Asia. This places an additional strain on many countries’ under-resourced health systems.
The new agreement aims to improve access to health for this vulnerable population, and support countries in border health, including in emergency preparedness and response. It also aims to enhance action across sectors, including education, social welfare, and protection, to better plan health interventions with a short-, medium-, and long-term vision.
“This initiative has been created precisely to address these challenges and will help stakeholders to coordinate and harmonize actions to enhance the health of migrants,” said Director General Vitorino.
The 70 million figure includes five million Venezuelans living in Colombia, Chile, Peru, and elsewhere due to political unrest and the ongoing caravans of Central America traveling to Mexico and the United States.
Migrant populations are not only affected by lesser delivery of services due to COVID-19; they also face precarious living conditions, reduced access to water, sanitation, and nutrition; poor working conditions, and legal, language, and cultural barriers that complicate them adhering to public health strictures. Separation from support networks, financial hardship, and limited access to supplies and medication are also threatening migrants’ mental health and worsening pre-existing conditions.
Beyond COVID-19, many migrants in the Americas experience a range of communicable as well as non-communicable diseases that require urgent recognition and treatment. Diseases including malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and hypertension among migrant populations must be addressed.
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