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Women on the Move: Migration, Care Work and Health

Organized by Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute and World Health Organization (WHO)

November 21
6:30 PM – 7:30 PM
Auditorium 2, Maison de la Paix
Geneva, Switzerland




Photo Courtesy: Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute


Migrant women care workers act as a cushion for states lacking adequate public provision for long-term care, particularly for older people and the sick. Together with the rising demographic dependency ratios and female labor force participation, aging in late industrial and middle-income economies is leading to care deficits worldwide. WHO has produced a new analytical report on this population group, collating evidence across sectors and covering countries that send and receive large numbers of migrant women working in the care sector.

This event will present the report and its findings and key messages on the state of evidence on this population group, the work they do and the lives they lead, the emergence of global care chains and transnational families, as well as the legal and policy frameworks which affect their lives, and what needs to change.

The high-level panelists include:

1) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization
2) Ambassador Laura Thompson,  Deputy Director General, International Organization for Migration
3) Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
4) Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela, Assistant Director General, Family, Women’s and Children’s Health Cluster, World Health Organization
5) Bernhard Schwartländer, Chef de Cabinet, World Health Organization
6) Dr Alan Ludowyke, Director, International Health, Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, Sri Lanka
7) Dr Ilona Kickbusch, Director, Global Health Centre, Graduate Institute
8) Dr Veronica Magar, Gender, Equity and Rights Team Leader, World Health Organization


Organized by
Global Health Centre at the Graduate Institute 

September 4-6
Geneva, Switzerland
(Application Deadline – August)


Many different forms of migration exist and human mobility shapes global health, impacting on domestic and foreign poli­cies of sending, transition and receiving countries. The health of migrants is influenced by these different policies and legal frameworks but also by the practices surrounding migration. Yet, the act of migration alone does not cause any disease. Rather, the socioeconomic, political, cultural and environmen­tal conditions connected to the act of migration can impact on health and the vulnerability to disease. National health systems are often put under pressure to respond to large-scale movements and diplomacy comes into play to find cross-border, collective solutions. Health can serve as an entry point for these diplomatic actions and new governance mechanisms need to be negotiated to respond appropriately to migration crises.

Yet, the migration crisis interfaces with other crises, such as the ecological, financial, humanitarian, and health security crisis. This complexity requires a new awareness but also a fast response that recognises the synergies between them and addresses the distribution of power, money and resources. Decisive political action is needed to save lives, protect people and preserve dignity.

Global Migration of HIV/AIDS

AIDS 2012 in Washington, D.C., is still a year away but a session at IAS 2011 brought to mind why the location of next year’s conference is so significant. It’s been 22 years since the U.S. hosted the conference, in San Francisco in 1990.  When President Obama lifted national entry restrictions for people with HIV that paved the way for organizers to bring IAS back to the United States.

Discriminatory policies, stigma and criminalization are just a few of the challenges facing HIV-positive migrants worldwide and those who face particular risk for infection. Migrants in Asia, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa struggle with unique regional issues but they share common obstacles.  Whether people migrant voluntarily in search of economic opportunity or are displaced by military conflicts or natural disasters they encounter significant barriers in accessing health services.  Women are especially vulnerable when they suffer sexual violence, are forced into sex work for economic survival or have sex with men who have multiple partners. 

Security rather than human rights has been the focus in dealing with HIV/AIDS and migrant populations.  But as Rosilyne Borland of the International Organization for Migration pointed out, migration health is not the same as border health. Adopting mult-sectoral strategies to address migrant health and training migrants to be community health workers and peer educators were some of the responses identified as effective ways to address this critical distinction.

The focus away from security and toward human rights may shift with language in the latest political declaration on HIV/AIDS that came out of last month’s UN High-Level Meeting in New York.  The document calls for a commitment to address “the vulnerabilities experienced by migrant and mobile populations and support their access to HIV prevention, care, treatment and support.”  It also calls for a commitment of financial resources and evidence-based prevention measures to ensure that particular attention is paid to migrants and people affected by humanitarian emergencies among other key groups.

It may be a year until AIDS 2012 comes to Washington but it’s not too early to stress political will and honoring financial commitments as critical in addressing the realities faced by vulnerable populations.

Treatment’s Obstacles: Education and Migration

The story of Mariana Bernofsky, a TB patient and mother, in Moldova

Mariana Bernofsky (video below) lives with her husband in Balti, a small town in Northern Moldova, in a house that has been passed through the family for generations. She stays at home with their young child while he works as a trash collector, earning less than $200 each month. Mariana is pregnant and is infected with TB. She expects to successfully complete her treatment in a few months and, after her child is born, will be able to get a final X-Ray that she hopes will show she has been cured of TB.

A few years ago, her father died of TB. It was the second time he had contracted the disease and the last time occurred while he was a migrant worker in Moscow. In this video, Mariana discusses her father’s illness. She touches on a few themes that are very important when discussing TB: how migration can influence TB incidence and how lack of education can complicate the treatment of TB patients.


Read the full blog on the Pulitzer Center’s website.

See David Rochkind’s article and multi-media piece Moldova: What Happens to MDR-TB Patients.

Cancun: Climate Change, Displacement and Migration

All this week, Jade Sasser, policy advisor for the Public Health Institute, is guest blogging for Blog4GlobalHealth from the Cancun Climate Summit in Mexico. Her reports can also be seen at Dialogue4Health, the blog of PHI.

CANCUN, Mexico — Tuesday at the COP 16 climate change conference here, I attended a briefing on the topic of displacement and migration in the context of climate change.

Representatives from a range of United Nations departments highlighted evidence identifying increased mobility and migration as one of the most significant human impacts of climate change: according to some projections, as many as 150 million people could be displaced by climate-related phenomena by the year 2050. As panelists argued, predicting the long term impacts of increased mobility is particularly difficult, thus leaving the social, political and health effects of climate-induced migration an open question.

Among other factors, four key climate change-related phenomena are particularly associated with migration and displacement: intensified acute natural disasters; rising sea levels; intensified drought and desertification; and heightened competition for natural resources, leading to conflict and mass displacement. As a result, the most socially vulnerable, usually the poor, are most affected, and most likely to migrate. At the same time, displacement and migration is often associated with the disruption of social networks and access to health services, leading to an overall decline in human health. This is often worse for women, who are more likely to experience gender based violence in the wake of forced migration.

Of note is the panelists’ insistence that climate-related migration be seen as evidence of successful adaptation to climate change, rather than a failure to adapt. They argued that it usually results from a complex decision-making process in which the long-term effects of changes to the environment are considered in the context of livelihoods, means of subsistence, and overall quality of life. As a representative of the World Food Programme argued, these longer term changes have a far greater impact on environmentally driven migration than sudden onset natural disasters do.

Ultimately, climate change-induced migration is a matter of social inequality, as the poorest, most socially vulnerable and least resilient communities are most likely to have to migrate. In this context, panelists called for climate change adaptation strategies that include improved urban planning, disaster management, incorporation of a human rights perspective, and a focus on improving resiliency of the most vulnerable groups. In addition, more data is needed to develop evidence-based strategies to effectively understand migration decision making at the household level, as well as to develop services that effectively meet the needs of the most vulnerable, while working to improve their resiliency. These urgent needs provide a significant opportunity for members of the global public health community to take a leadership role in strengthening adaptation efforts at the local and regional levels.

The Public Health Institute is working through its Center for Public Health and Climate Change to support the public health and broader community to understand and respond to this critical challenge. We are working to equip the public health community with knowledge, skills, resources and tools needed to effectively address the health impacts from climate change- particularly among vulnerable populations. Join our community, track our work, and receive updates at www.climatehealthconnect.org