Human Mobility and Malaria

Elimination of Malaria is Possible….
But only When Human Mobility is Considered

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Geneva – Human mobility is a major social determinant of health that can increase malaria-related illness and deaths for migrants and host communities, especially along migration corridors. With close to one in every seven individuals on the move globally, populations traveling from an area with high malaria burden can potentially re-introduce malaria into low-transmission or malaria-free areas. The combination of social and economic inequalities and discriminatory policies in all sectors, such as health, immigration, labor and social protection, often limit migrants’ access to appropriate malaria prevention, diagnostics, treatment and care services. This perpetuates the disease cycle among migrants and host communities.

Response to Malaria should benefit ALL, including migrants. Photo: IOM

In 2017, malaria was one of the leading causes of death due to communicable disease worldwide; there were an estimated 219 million new cases and 435,000 deaths. It is key to understand migrant mobility patterns and associated malaria risk factors to improve migration outcomes, and reduce vulnerability in migrants’ living, working and transit conditions, which increase their likelihood of contracting malaria.

Malaria can only be eliminated when evidence-based operational approaches have been identified to reach migrant populations, improve vector control and ensure migrants' access to malaria services, while promoting surveillance, referrals and treatment between national health systems.

Migrants urgently need to be included in global, national and local prevention and control strategies to support the elimination of malaria, following the spirit of Sustainable Development targets that aim for Universal Health Coverage, and in line with the objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, and Resolution 70.15 of the World Health Assembly on Promoting the health of refugees and migrants (2017).

IOM currently supports malaria programming across many countries, often through the support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In Yemen, Thailand and Somalia, IOM has implemented multi-pronged evidence-based public health strategies, including interventions around vector control, distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets (LLIN) and behavior change communication campaigns to raise awareness around prevention and encourage treatment seeking behaviors, including drug compliance.

In Paraguay, a country now certified by WHO as free of Malaria (2018), IOM supported the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in strengthening the National Strategy for the Prevention of the Reintroduction of Malaria, placing an emphasis on disease prevention, identification of potential cases, accurate diagnosis, treatment as well as the empowerment of resources and skills in the 18 health regions of the country.  

The elimination of malaria will require a universal approach of strengthening community responses that understand the determinants of migrants’ health and build on sustainable and mobility competent health systems that address the many challenges of malaria control in an increasingly interconnected world.

For more information please contact IOM HQ:
Carlos Van der Laat, Tel: +41227179459, Email: [email protected] 

Human Mobility and Malaria  - Overview

Malaria continues to be a global public health concern that disrupts development goal progress for many countries despite significant progress in reducing malaria cases and deaths around the world. Human mobility and migration pose as major challenges in malaria elimination and control. In today’s globalized world, an unprecedented number of people are on the move through multi-directional, seasonal or circular pathways within and across borders. Various factors include better opportunities, rapid urbanization, proliferation of mega-cities, and forced displacement due to armed conflict or climate change-included natural disasters, among others. Current reports indicate that there are 232 million international and 740 million internal migrants, and fifty per cent (50%) of them are women in the reproductive age group.

People movement from areas of high transmission can result in imported cases and potential re-introduction of malaria into low-transmission or malaria-free zones. Migrants, mobile, cross-border and the internally displaced populations (IDPs) are key vulnerable groups who may be affected by malaria  largely because they lack or have limited access to gender-sensitive and culturally-aware malaria prevention, treatment and continuum of  healthcare support at points of origin, travel and transit, at destination and upon returning home.

Collective efforts from both the health and non-health sectors such as transportation, education, social services, immigration, private sector, is critical in reducing the global disease burden of malaria. Key interventions in the fight against malaria must strengthen efforts to monitor migrants’ health and gather disaggregated data on malaria and population movements, support and implement evidence-informed advocacy and programmatic approaches to improve inclusive national and regional health systems and address varying levels of health seeking behavior, including risks of exposure to sub-standard drugs that may lead to emerging drug resistance. It is equally necessary to actively engage these communities to reinforce migrant-inclusive multi-sector policy development and resource mobilization.

The WHO Global Technical Strategy Malaria 2016-2030, adopted in May 2015, provides a comprehensive framework for countries to develop tailored programmes to accelerate malaria elimination through the three pillars and the two supporting elements. The strategy is aligned with the 2008 World Health Assembly Resolution on Health of Migrants which called on governments and key stakeholders to, inter alia, “promote equitable access to health promotion and care for migrants”, and “to promote bilateral and multi-lateral cooperation on migrants’ health among countries involved in the whole migration process”, as well as the Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM)’s Action and Investment to defeat Malaria (AIM) 2016-2030 does since its approval in May 2015.

In 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria in 87 countries. (WHO 2019).
Watch IOM Health, mobility and borders video.  English Spanish

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