Social Determinants of Migrant Health

Individual life style factors, social and community influences, living and working conditions, general socio-economic, cultural and environmental conditions determine the heath of individuals. These social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequalities and inequities within and between countries.

Following the 62nd World Health Assembly (2009) resolution Reducing Health Inequities through Action on the Social Determinants of Health, IOM recognizes the importance of addressing migration as a social determinant of the health of migrants and is committed to working with governments and partners to reduce health inequities for migrants.

Conditions surrounding migration often fuel health inequities and may expose migrants to increased health risks and negative health outcomes: restrictive migration policies cause an increasing number of migrants to travel in a clandestine and risky manner using irregular means of transportation; economic downturns and anti-migrant sentiments give them limited access to health care, education, and safe and dignified working and living conditions. In this context, migration has become a key social determinant of the health of migrants.

Migrants are of diverse backgrounds and include both international and internal migrants, regular and irregular migrants, individuals migrating for work or educational opportunities, internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum-seekers, and victims of trafficking. These sub-populations have varying levels of risk and vulnerability based on the circumstances surrounding their migration process. Most migrants face a combination of legal, social, cultural, economic, behavioral and communication barriers which put their physical, mental, and social well-being at risk. These determinants are more severe for women, minors, and lower skilled migrants, especially if in an irregular situation. However, even migrants with legal documents and a higher socio-economic position may experience challenges and limitations to accessing services due to language and cultural differences, as well as institutional and structural obstacles or psycho-social stressors.

The migration process and health outcomes

The health of a migrant is shaped by the experiences and situations in the place of origin, during transit, in the place of destination, and in some cases during the return to the place of origin:

Addressing health inequities of migrants

The Rio Political Declaration passed at the World Conference on Social Determinants of Health in 2011 and the 2008 World Health Assembly Resolution on Health of Migrants, recognized the need of migrant-inclusive health policies and inter-sectoral policy coherence to address health inequalities and vulnerabilities affecting migrants and to ensure that migrants are able to lead healthy lives and contribute as productive members of society.
Therefore, five key action areas were identified for the promotion of migrant-sensitive health policies:

  1. Adopt better governance for health and development
  2. Promote participation in policy-making and implementation
  3. Further reorient the health sector towards reducing health inequities
  4. Strengthen global governance and collaboration
  5. Monitor progress and increase accountability