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Migration myths are harming society

Sarah Campbell06/12/2018 - 14:47

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Migration is a 'defining issue of our time'
Migration is a 'defining issue of our time'

Myths about migration and health – including that migrants are disease carriers, a risk to public health and a burden on services – are harmful and not backed up by evidence, according to data from a new commission set up by The Lancet and University College London.

In 2018, there were more than one billion people on the move, a quarter of whom were migrants crossing international borders. High-income countries such as the UK have seen a rise in the percentage of international migrants (from 7.6 per cent in 1990 to 13.4 per cent in 2017) but they are more likely to be students who pay for their education or labour migrants who are net contributors to the economy.

The chair of the commission, Professor Ibrahim Abubakar of UCL, said that there is no evidence that migrants to the UK are a drain on the NHS or that they spread infectious disease. ‘Exclusion of migrants in health systems and the increasing negative rhetoric is political and not evidence based,’ he said.

‘The hostile environment towards migrants in the UK has led directly to migrants and British citizens being denied health care, with direct severe public health and health economic consequences.’

Migrants are more likely to bolster services by providing medical care, teaching, caring for older people and supporting understaffed services. In the UK, 37% of doctors received their medical qualification in another country. 

The stereotype of migrants as disease carriers is one of the most prevalent and most harmful, the commission found. However, there is no systematic association between migration and importation of infectious diseases. Recent examples of spread of resistant pathogens was driven mainly by international travel, tourism and the movement of livestock. 

‘Migration is the defining issue of our time,’ said Abubakar. ‘Creating health systems that integrate migrant populations will benefit entire communities with better health access for all and positive gains for local populations.’

The report, including its recommendations to improve the public health response to migration, will be launched on Saturday 8 December at the UN Intergovernmental Conference to adopt the Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration in Marrakech.

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