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The COVID-19 Pandemic: How to Achieve a Fair and Effective Response That Includes Migrants

Arrested refugees-immigrants in Fylakio detention center, Evros, Greece. 9 October 2010, 11:54:26 Source: File:20101009 Arrested refugees immigrants in Fylakio detention center Thrace Evros Greece.tif Author: Photo by Ggia, dust spots/scratches removed by Kim Hansen.

Since the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was identified earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared, in less than ten weeks, the pandemic of its disease, COVID-19. Since then, human-to-human transmission of the virus has exploded worldwide.

As reported cases increased, initially in areas concentrated in China, Iran, and Italy, measures to contain this pandemic were implemented, often slowly. Now, health systems are racing to review the abundant evidence available from many countries on the effectiveness of various policies to reduce transmission rates.

The success of the measures depends on strong leadership, public support for the response, effective management of the pressure on the health system, and a continuous flow of needed resources, particularly protective equipment for health workers and now also for the general population.

However, if government policies do not explicitly address the needs of vulnerable groups such as the homeless, sex workers, people in the prison system, drug users, and migrants, efforts to control the pandemic will fail since VIDOC-19 is highly contagious, highly prevalent, and often asymptomatic.

If government policies do not explicitly address the needs of vulnerable groups, efforts to control the pandemic will fail as VIDOC-19 is highly transmissible, highly prevalent and often asymptomatic

Migration and the mobility of people across borders have been linked to health problems. Studies indicate that migrants face different levels of health inequalities and have more significant challenges in accessing care for infectious diseases, mental health, diabetes, occupational health risks, and maternal and child health needs, for example. Migrants often have limited access to information about health services, leading to misuse or underutilization of available services. As highlighted by the WHO Regional Office for Europe recently in The Lancet, migrants,, and refugees are particularly vulnerable to the impact of IDOC-19, generally within the framework of society and in particular in the health system.

Under normal circumstances, many European health systems are already failing to implement policies that go beyond the mandatory laws regulating the care of migrants and are doing little to address the diverse needs of migrant populations. In extraordinary circumstances, such as those caused by a pandemic, such shortfalls are magnified. They can lead to these often vulnerable populations being placed even further on the margins of society. Health promotion activities, which include providing information in local languages, are often neglected. Cultural barriers can make it difficult to integrate fully into the system, and many migrants do not use primary health care but rely on emergency departments or free health services.

To combat COVID-19, many national and regional governments have asked people to stay home if they feel sick and to report symptoms through a mobile phone application if possible, or by calling their primary care physician. So, where are the migrants who do not use primary care services or do not have a mobile phone with this application translated into their language to report possible symptoms?

Policies implemented in countries around the world are helping to curb the epidemic. Although these measures have an impact on our daily lives and can be disruptive, they are reducing person-to-person transmission and decreasing the burden of the disease. However, in many cases,, they are not sufficiently focused on safeguarding vulnerable populations, including migrants.

In many cases, however, measures are not sufficiently focused on safeguarding vulnerable populations, including migrants

When these measures were designed, did the politicians ask themselves any of the following questions?

Can all people afford to be confined to their homes and not go to work, or will businesses offer flexibility when working from home?
How many people live on average in a typical household, and how much space do they have?
Do all people have access to information in their language about the importance of proper hand hygiene and social distancing?
Do all people have access to accurate information sources through large or unlimited mobile data quotas and Internet access?
Do policies identify measures to make VIDOC-19 prevention, diagnosis, and treatment efforts inclusive of marginalized populations?
The economic impact of confinement and other preventive measures will be even more profound for migrant populations, particularly those with irregular migration status. They often work in harsh and precarious conditions or the informal sector, and will not benefit from social and economic support initiatives. A loss of income will push them further into poverty and aggravate health inequity.

The economic impact of confinement and other preventive measures will be even more profound for migrant populations, in particular for those with an irregular migration status

Migrants enrich the diversity of European countries and make essential contributions to society and the economy. They often have essential, low-wage jobs as private carers taking care of the elderly in our community; some work in restaurants and prepare our food, and others are domestic workers, indispensable to families. Fair and effective policies of containment and decontainment must take into account the diversity of the population and adopt a public health and human rights approach. Let us not allow legal rights or resident status to stand in the way of the defeat of COVID-19.

Tests, which are crucial to controlling the pandemic, and other health services must be available to all people, regardless of their migratory status, as Portugal has announced, and future social and economic aid policies must in no way exclude migrant populations. Let us remember that the COVID-19 pandemic began in one city and quickly traveled around the world. Until we are all virus-free, we are all at risk.

Jeanna Stevenson

Jeanna is a nomad blogger, economist, tech-geek, and paper writing helper. Her motto is "Progress, not perfection".

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