Migrant health: A worldwide concern?

Posted on December 18, 2018 by kerri
Migration is not just for birds in winter and summer! Recently there has been a lot of talk in the media regarding immigration to both the US and Canada. December 18 is International Migrant’s Day. Health issues affecting migrants—also known as immigrants or emigrants, depending which way these folks are headed—are a worldwide concern and can affect us all. What is important to know about migrant health?
What—or who—is a migrant?
An immigrant is a person who comes to a country with intent to settle in the new country—the country they are emigrating from is the one that they are leaving. [1] While not the term typically used, technically a person who moves within a country, such as from one state or province to another, is also a migrant—this practice is known as “internal migration”. [2] In this article, we’ll be discussing international migration.
Often, people immigrate for better living conditions—these people are known as economic migrants. [3] “Migrant workers” are those who move to another country to work. [4]
Exploring migrant health
Depending on the health systems of the country the person is originating from, as well as that of the country they are arriving in, health can be a major challenge for many immigrants.  Migrants may also experience health challenges like heat exhaustion, frostbite, and dehydration—among others—while on the move if migrating on foot. [5] In many countries, even those that have “universal” health care, health services are not provided to non-citizens under this coverage and must be paid for by insurance or other means. [6, 7] This can make accessing health care an expensive burden on newcomers, especially if they arrive in poor health. [7, 8]
While rare [9], communicable diseases can affect the health of those in the country of entry, especially if they do not have immunity to these diseases—the same is true of migrants being at health risk of communicable diseases in their country of entry. [9] Tuberculosis (TB) is one such notable disease [9]; while TB vaccination is common in many underdeveloped parts of the world, it is not common in North America as risk of acquiring TB is very low. [10]
Most of the time, significant health risk to citizens is not posed by immigrants to a country. [10] It is not likely that an immigrant will introduce a “rare or exotic disease” to the population they are transiting into. [10]
Health issues faced by migrants
In addition to any chronic disease developed prior to migration, migrants—specifically refugees—face risks like accidental injuries, hypothermia or heat exhaustion, burns, gastrointestinal illnesses, cardiac events like heart attacks, and chronic disease issues specifically related to hypertension and diabetes. [10] Women may face sexual or physical violence, trafficking, and problems related to pregnancy and delivery, as well as issues related to maternal, newborn, and child health. [10] Mental health issues—including psychosocial disorders—drug and alcohol abuse and misuse, and poor nutrition increase risk of developing both communicable and some chronic diseases. [10] Children especially may also be vulnerable to respiratory and gastrointestinal illness in poor living conditions or during migration; exhaustion, skin infection and deprivation of nutrients and sleep are other significant concerns for children, who should receive health care promptly. [10]
Supporting migrant health
Donating to charities that help migrants in your community access health care is a fantastic way to support migrant health. Providing social support by volunteering with newcomer families can provide not only assistance for a family adjusting, but also a long-lasting friendship!

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