A comprehensive new report which aims to dispel unfounded myths about migration has been published.

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The UCL-Lancet Commission on Migration and Health is the result of a two-year project led by experts from 13 countries. It includes a main report, new data analysis and two original research papers featuring contributions from researchers at St George’s Centre for Global Health, based in the Institute for Infection and Immunity.

Stereotypes about migrants being carriers of disease who present a risk to public health and are a burden on health services are regularly used to deny migrants entry to countries, restrict access to healthcare, or detain people unlawfully. But evidence in the report shows that these myths are unfounded.

For example, with regard to health services, the Commission found that migrants are more likely to bolster services than be a burden, as they constitute a substantial proportion of the health care workforce in many high-income countries. “Global patterns of mortality in international migrants”, one of the original research papers, was co-authored by Dr Laura Nellums, Professor Jon Friedland and Dr Sally Hargreaves. It looked at mortality estimates for over 15 million migrants from 92 countries, and found that international migrants had lower rates of death for cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, nervous and respiratory diseases and mental disorders than the general population in the receiving country.

The other original research paper highlights the detrimental impact on the children these migrants leave behind, showing that parental migration has significant impacts on the children’s mental health.

Dr Sally Hargreaves is a Commissioner on the main report, “The Health of the World on the Move”, as well as co-authoring the paper on left-behind children and mortality. She said: “This Commission represents the most comprehensive review of the available evidence to date on the relationship between migration and health, and it is our sincere hope that the recommendations of the Commissioners lead to direct improvements in the global response to migration – in particular with respect to health – which has been woefully inadequate to date”.

Lecturer in Global Health Dr Ayesha Ahmad was a contributing author to the main report, with a focus on the gendered aspects of migration. She said: “Migratory journeys may be undertaken because of flight from gender-based violence. Sadly, migrants are then often exposed to more gender-based violence during their journeys. The narratives and experiences I analysed relating to migration require deep understanding and redress from governments.”

The UCL-Lancet Commission is calling for improved leadership and accountability around migration and health, alongside equitable and universal access to health services for migrants and to ensure the universal health coverage agenda includes migrants, regardless of legal status.

Dr Hargreaves noted: “In many European countries, including the UK, the government’s response to rising immigration generally has been to adopt more restrictive approaches to migrants accessing health-care services on arrival, with implications for their health, and it is important that this changes to better align with our commitments towards universal health coverage as part of the sustainable development goals.”

She added: “It is also important to highlight that certain migrant groups – including refugees and undocumented migrants – face massive suffering and ill-health. There are thousands of migrants languishing in appalling conditions in detention camps on the north African coast with no or limited healthcare provision, and young migrants dying from preventable infections such as tuberculosis in central London, which is completely unacceptable and requires a more effective policy response. We have a moral imperative to improve the health and wellbeing of migrants where needs are identified, alongside tackling the root causes of mass migration”.

The Commission will be formally launched on 8 December in Marrakech at an official side event to the Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration.


Report: The UCL–Lancet Commission on Migration and Health: the health of a world on the move

Global patterns of mortality in international migrants: a systematic review and meta-analysis (Aldridge R A et al)

Health impacts of parental migration on left-behind children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis (Fellmeth G et al)