How WHO is supporting refugees and migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic

WHO has been working closely with ministries of health across the world in Cambodia, Greece, Lebanon, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand, and Turkey among others. On the ground in Thailand, Universal health coverage is provided to all migrants regardless of migration status. WHO country offices have mobilized resources locally from the Government of Japan to help strengthen surveillance and outbreak response in refugee camps, along with facilitating supplies of PPE and commodities. A migrant hotline for COVID-19 in the Khmer, Lao and Burmese languages is launched.

In Mexico, education materials on the prevention, early detection and management of COVID-19 in shelters for migrants and asylum seekers have been developed. Migrant reception centres have been identified as areas of potentially greater health risk and WHO is promoting the implementation of health protocols for the prevention and early detection of COVID-19 at these points.

The Government of Singapore, with support of WHO, health partners and NGOs, have enhanced risk communication and community engagement with foreign workers in dormitories, A major challenge communicating with this vulnerable group are language barriers, but authorities have found innovative ways to communicate and engage with them in their native languages.

Another innovative approach to enhance communication and engagement with vulnerable populations was through the use of NGOs, including the Migrant Workers Centre. The Migrant Workers Centre continues to tap into its network of more than 5000 dormitory ambassadors to help communicate and disseminate the messages. These ambassadors are foreign workers themselves and have volunteered to help fellow workers.

The Government has also boosted Wi-Fi receptivity in the dormitories and provided SIM cards to workers to enable them to stay connected. They have also opened up many news and entertainment cable channels to enable viewing on mobile devices.

The recent and rapid increase in population movements across borders has brought into focus the need for extensive data collection on refugee and migrant health in regard to public health planning. WHO is promoting research efforts, evidence gathering and increased availability of refugee and migrant health data at the country level[8]. WHO has suggested policy considerations to strengthen health monitoring in these underserved communities.

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