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Migration Health: 2021 Impact Overview

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By Ugochi Daniels Deputy Director General for Operations

The year 2021 gave us many reasons for hope. With diagnostic, therapeutic and immunization advances, science offered solutions to kickstart recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating effects. In most of the world, human mobility – which had been severely limited since early 2020 – started resuming, cautiously, thanks to various mitigation tools, such as testing, vaccination, and health passes, that made it possible to align international travel with public health imperatives. Most importantly, we witnessed a genuine desire to make COVID19-related health services more accessible and inclusive.

However, despite several positive developments, profound inequalities and discrimination have persisted. While the public health emergency slowed down many activities, including regular migration, it did not put an end to conflict, disaster, humanitarian need or forced displacement.

According to the latest World Migration Report, the current global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, which equates to 3.6 per cent of the global population.

The poorest and most at-risk, such as migrants in irregular situations or stranded, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, and asylum seekers, often remain the most neglected and the least able to access reliable health information and services. The cost of this injustice has been laid bare these past two years: in addition to being a moral failure, it is a dead end in terms of public health and global health security.

In 2021, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) celebrated 70 years of existence and service. Our migration health mandate has been a core pillar of our raison d’être since day one.

Over the decades, the scope and geographical reach of IOM’s migration health work has expanded to some 110 countries – low-, middle- and high-income alike. In humanitarian contexts or through sustainable development initiatives, our life-saving work now spans a wide range of activities, including primary care consultations, sexual and reproductive care, routine and outbreak-related immunization, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS), fight against persistent diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, health assessments for migration and resettlement processes, advocacy and research.

This past year, in addition to our long-standing health portfolio and the COVID-19-specific activities launched the first year of the pandemic, IOM played a key role in supporting national COVID-19 vaccination campaigns and ensuring that doses could reach migrants no matter their legal status. This was done through community outreach activities, including risk communication and community engagement (RCCE) activities to address vaccine hesitancy and support uptake improvement, the provision of technical and logistical support, and even – where relevant – the direct administration of vaccine doses. This report offers only a glimpse into our global 2021 achievements, made possible by the unyielding determination of our staff and continued trust of our Member States, partners and donors.

On behalf of the migrants whose lives were improved thanks to access to health services, we thank all our donors and partners for their support.

There is much left to do if we want to achieve a world where health coverage is truly universal and where no migrant is left behind. We will not stop. As the health equity gap persists, so does our ambition to defeat it.