Evidence Shows Primary Healthcare for Migrants is Cost-saving

Jacqueline Weekers (3rd from left), IOM Migration Health Division Director and fellow panellists in Astana. Photo: IOM  

Astana – IOM, the UN Migration Agency, pointed out that “leaving no one behind” as formulated in the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals does not necessarily mean a greater burden to health budgets.

During the side-event at the Global Conference on Primary Health Care held in Astana, Kazakhstan, yesterday (25/10), Jacqueline Weekers, IOM’s Migration Health Division Director noted that “High costs are often cited by governments as the main reason to not include migrants in health systems. Meanwhile, migrants contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits, send remittances to home communities and fill labour market gaps in host societies. Equitable access for migrants to low cost primary health care can reduce health expenditures, improve social cohesion and enable migrants to contribute substantially towards the development.”

Weekers opened the experts’ forum Primary Health Care for Migrants – the Economic Argument, presenting cutting-edge research on experiences both in Europe and Asia on the cost of excluding migrants and asylum seekers from healthcare.

The panel discussion was co-chaired by Santino Severoni, Public Health and Migration Coordinator at the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe and Lyazat Aktaeva, Vice Minister of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Both key note speakers – Ursula Trummer, Head of the Center for Health and Migration and Kai Hong Phua, Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy – emphasized that the human rights discourse on migrants’ health must be complemented with an economic optimization model.

“Adding the economic perspective can provide the costs and benefits in order to arrive at a balanced consensus,” said Hong Phua. “The necessity of migrant workers in the economy, of keeping private costs for business firms low and ensuring the welfare of migrant workers justifies economically a fair health care policy for migrants,” he added.

Trummer said: “Different studies on the most vulnerable migrant groups such as asylum seekers and undocumented migrants all come to similar conclusions: It is not cost saving to restrict access to health care. Evidence from our vignette study in Europe shows the potential cost savings of timely treatment in primary care of 49 per cent to 100 per cent of the costs that occur for treatment of more severe medical conditions in hospital.”

This view was supported by the Ministry of Health of Thailand, which has almost two decades of experience with health insurance both for its migrant workers and their dependents, and the Ministry of Health of Turkey, which is ensuring the coverage of primary health needs of Syrian refugees under temporary protection in the country.

In her remarks, Weekers also referred to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) – which is scheduled to be adopted by Member States in Marrakesh in December – and provides a unifying framework of common principles and commitments among member states in a world increasingly marked by migration.

“The GCM presents us with a historical opportunity to improve the lives and dignity of migrants as well as the ability of States to manage migration. Health must be there, and it is there, throughout the 23 objectives of the GCM. The implementation of the GCM can work hand in hand with the universal health coverage and the primary health care agenda,” she said.

For more information please contact Joe Lowry at the IOM Regional Office in Vienna, Tel: +436603776404, Email: