The Future of Refugee and Migrant Health in Europe: WHO Webinar Review

Wealth Through Health

Author: Mary Harasym

The World Health Organization (WHO) hosted a live-streamed webinar on September 28th, 2018 from Palermo, Italy, as part of the School on Refugee and Migrant Health. It was the 7th webinar of the WHO-Europe’s webinar series from the Knowledge Hub on Health and Migration.

The webinar had five panelists: Allan Krasnik (EUPHA) Santino Severoni (WHO), Michaela Told (Graduate Institute Geneva), and Dominik Zenner (IOM), moderated by Christy Feig. The discussion was short but had thought provoking themes including the economic advantage of integrating migrants into health systems quickly, effectively communicating with media outlets in the post-truth era, digitizing health systems, and finally, a call to action for society.

The panelists discussed how migrant integration undeniably brings economic benefits for the host society. One panelist gave the example from Denmark where decreasing state support for refugees has led to greater poverty and inequity resulting in poorer health. If migrants suffer from untreated physical or mental illness, they are less likely to be able to work or attend school, and therefore might struggle to participate in their host country’s economy. Integration policies must therefore take health into consideration. The panel emphasized that it is considerably more cost effective to include migrants in the health system from the first day; policy that is also in line with a human rights-based approach. While the economic gains associated with focusing on migrant health in Europe are well established, this information is not always communicated effectively.


Considering the current post-truth era, it is no shock that the benefits of migrant integration are not widely seen in the media. Increasing rates of migration were sensationalized, feeding into populist narratives that legitimized countries’ adoption of exclusionary or racist policies. This atmosphere of crisis may have perpetuated the feeling that each European country didn’t have to accept refugees as it wasn’t their own responsibility. This is a key example of why we need to include journalists at inception of research studies or policy changes, to communicate truthfully and effectively to the public. There must be a paradigm shift as to how we think of the media; they can be our allies whom we need to actively engage with.


There must also be a paradigm shift of how we understand migrants in Europe if we are to achieve universal health coverage (UHC). The panelists draw upon how the path to UHC has digitizing health systems at the center of it, arguing that “we cannot have UHC without migrant health”. As healthcare moves from pen and paper methods to electronic systems, there won’t be space to have people slip through the system because of a lack of documentation. This must be recognized when designing robust digital health systems.


The path to UHC including  migrants in Europe is a long one, and the future of migrants’ health in Europe is dependent on our actions in the present. The clearest take away from the webinar was the call to action to vigorously work towards inclusion of migrants in Europe. The panelists argued that health professionals and health managers have an obligation to speak out when they see how social inequities manifest through physical and psychological health problems and should actively reject policies that discriminate against migrants. Using professional channels to collect evidence and communicate what they witness are ways to create small changes in the here and now. There must also be efforts from all members of society to focus on the positive aspects of integrating refugees in conversation with peers and through networks like social media. Lastly, efforts must be made to hold politicians to account and vote for those who offer a positive rhetoric and agenda for migrant rights and integration.

The webinar brought to light several thought-provoking issues, with a range of rhetorical styles and perspectives displayed by the different panelists. If we as individuals, communities, and societies can answer their call to action and reverse current trends, the future of refugee and migrant health in Europe will be a hopeful one.

Edited November 1st with the following:

  1. The term fake news was changed to post-truth.
  2. The sentence “there must be a paradigm shift as to how we think of the media; they are our allies whom we need to actively engage with.” was changed to “there must be a paradigm shift as to how we think of the media; they can be our allies whom we need to actively engage with.”


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