Migration: Challenges, Commitment to Health, and Solidarity  

22 May 2019

Geneva, Switzerland, 22 May 2019 (PAHO/WHO) - The Health Ministers of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama acknowledged the challenge that migration poses to their health systems, and emphasized their commitment to a humane and collective response to migrants. The ministers were speaking at a side event of the 72nd World Health Assembly, which is continuing until 28 May in Geneva. 

Colombia’s Minister of Health, Juan Pablo Uribe, recognized the work and commitment of Ecuador, Peru, and Panama in addressing and providing a regional response to the migration problem. Uribe reported that Colombia has received more than 1.3 million migrants in 18 months, which poses a major challenge in terms of epidemiology, finance, and the sustainability of universal health coverage. He reported that the country has provided outpatient and emergency services to the migrant population 2.1 million times during that period.   

“We believe that every challenge presents an opportunity and we hope that this will be true now, that it will lead to greater institutional development, learning, and incorporation of best practices that will improve the performance of the system and make it more resilient, while affording greater regional and global integration,” Uribe said. He also reiterated Colombia’s commitment to a “humane and collective response,” as well as an open border policy.  

Ecuador’s Minister of Health, Verónica Espinosa, also recognized the challenge involved in unexpected population flows. She said that one million people have passed through Ecuador, and thousands have stayed. She explained that the amount of care provided to migrants has doubled, but asked attendees to see the human faces behind the numbers.   

She affirmed that “health is a human right and an undeniable and inalienable principle that can in no circumstances be taken away or be contingent on migratory status.”   

Espinosa emphasized that the protection of human rights has no borders. “Guaranteeing the right to health to migrants is entirely consistent with the law in this country. To us, health is not a commodity, it’s a human right,” she added.  

The ministers agreed that vaccination and health care in border zones has been a priority, and that bilateral and multilateral cooperation must become a strategic catalyst for ensuring coverage universal in the context of migration.  

According to Peru’s Minister of Health Zulema Tomás Gonzales, Peru has received more than 760,000 migrants. She said the country has an open-door policy and has focused on the protection of all children under 5, pregnant mothers, and patients with tuberculosis and HIV. She also stressed the need for international and financial organizations to provide aid to the countries that are receiving migrants, in light of what she considers “a shared responsibility.”  

Miguel Mayo, Minister of Health of Panama, stated that migrants deserve “humane treatment and to feel at home in each of our countries.” He also said that “strengthening regional efforts is urgent, so that we can optimize resources and not duplicate services.”   

At the side event Universal Health Coverage and Migration: leaving no one behind, participants also heard from representatives of Portugal and Turkey, as well as the Deputy Director-General of WHO, Zsuzsanna Jakab. The event was organized by the delegations from Colombia, Ecuador, Luxembourg, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Sudan, and Turkey.