Washington, Oct. 2, 2019 – Two major migration movements in the Americas have important implication for health systems, but also present opportunities for countries, according to health officials from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico who spoke today at an event, “Migration and Health: Challenges and Opportunities”

Recent migration from Central American countries through Mexico into the United States, and from Venezuela to its neighboring South American, Central American, and Caribbean countries, have presented challenges to health systems of countries receiving migrants.

“We need a regional approach to solve issues of migration, with a coordinated regional response”

Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa F. Etienne said, “We need a regional approach to solve issues of migration, with a coordinated regional response.” The response to migration from Venezuela and Central American countries, she said, requires partnering with governments is a medium to long-term scenario.

Dr. Ivan Dario Gonzalez, vice minister of health of Colombia, said 362,000 Venezuelan migrants have received health care in Colombia, with needs ranging from vaccines to vector-borne diseases to TB and HIV medicaments to mental health. “Our response is now a structural one,” he said.

Deputy Secretary of Health of Mexico Dr. Hugo Lopez-Gatell said all migrants in Mexico have a right to health and receive care at the local level. Mexican consulates in the US have “health windows” where people can receive basic health services, and some 9 million persons have used these in recent years, he noted.

In Brazil, states and the federal government are collaborating to offer health services to migrants from Venezuela and other countries, according to Dr. Marcus Vinicios Quito of the Brazilian Ministry of Health. A “welcome operation” seeks to integrate migrants from Venezuela, Haiti, Colombia, Bolivia and Uruguay, providing health services and support in 24 states.

PAHO’s Director of Health Emergencies, Dr. Ciro Ugarte, said migration is not only a challenge for countries in the Americas, but also presents them with great opportunities. “The benefit that migrants bring is proportional to the generosity of the countries that receive them,” he said.

Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO’s Assistant Director, said the migration and health session, which was held on the sidelines of the Organization’s 57th Directing Council, was a good opportunity to share experiences based on evidence. The organization is working with countries to improve and adapt best practices in providing health for migrants, he noted.  

PAHO had convened a high-level meeting on migration and health in 2018 to review the regional health panorama in the context of mass migrations, and to address challenges for improving the countries’ health systems and services for migrants and host populations. The meeting also  identified  priority actions to address the health needs of migrants while protecting regional gains in terms of elimination and control of endemic and epidemic-prone diseases; and discussing challenges for resource mobilization and health services financing.

Links: Regional Ministerial Meeting on Mass Migration and Health