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2023-03-17 at 18h33

Portugal stakes migrants’ right to health

WHO Second High-Level Interregional Meeting on the Health of Refugees and Migrants, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Egypt, 16-17 March 2023

"We must place migrants’ right to health at the top of our agenda", stated the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Health, Margarida Tavares, at the WHO Second High-Level Interregional Meeting on the Health of Refugees and Migrants, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, held in Egypt. 

Margarida Tavares represented Portugal at the two-day conference attended by delegations of 37 countries of these three WHO regions. The meeting ended with a joint declaration and the commitment that "universal health coverage is not universal if it leaves migrants and refugees out".

Portugal was asked to give one of the first speeches at the meeting, taking stock of the commitments achieved in the first meeting (Istanbul) and clues on the next steps, which are to lead to a WHO strategy for Migrant Health, to be approved at the end of the year.

The Secretary of State called on the five pillars and goals agreed on in 2022 by the Member States of the three WHO regions, among which is the need to offer transnational responses that ensure migrants whole-of-route access to healthcare. 

Sharing her experience as infectious disease doctor, particularly in responding to HIV, she drew attention to the importance of engaging grassroots and civil society organisations to get to the people who are farthest from healthcare services and ensure timely healthcare.

"The recent response to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine showed that we can adapt and react rapidly, without leaving anyone behind, a principle we all share. Given these two extraordinary situations, Portugal was able to offer an extraordinary response, as many other countries did", claimed the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Health. 

"The issue now is how to respond to long-term structural migration in normal times. This implies greater consensus, strong public health and a strong health service and keep investing", she added.

She claimed that, to reach equity in access to health care, different strategies are needed for those who live in greater vulnerability and underlined that "we must acknowledge the specific needs" of anyone who arrives in a new country. 

"In Portugal, migrants are generally young and healthy but they are more likely to have precarious or illegal jobs and are more exposed to poor living conditions, social exclusion, violence, and human trafficking. These aspects must be borne in mind when planning health responses, including healthcare professionals’ training", she noted.

"We must create the conditions for hope, safety, and prosperity"

Margarida Tavares also underlined that since Portugal is historically a country of emigrants, today it holds a record of more than 700 thousand foreign residents, including refugees and around 500 unaccompanied minors.  

"We must ensure their integration, creating conditions of hope, safety, and prosperity", she said, recalling that today Portugal is also one of the countries in the world with the greatest ageing population and must view immigration as an opportunity for socio-economic development.

"Due to immigration, some of our country’s regions have children at school and playing on the streets again. A society that knows how to take in new people benefits from their energy, their dreams and goals, as well as their contribution to economic development", she added.

According to the World Health Organisation, the 122 countries of the three regions that attended the meeting (Europe, Africa, and the Middle East) currently have around 170 million migrants and refugees, representing around two thirds of migrants worldwide.