IOM Prepared to Support on Mobility Aspects of Coronavirus Outbreak

Geneva – As concerns mount about the number of reported infections from a new coronavirus and its spread to at least 18 countries, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) stands ready to offer technical support to governments, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), to enable people to travel in a healthy manner and help enact public health measures with minimum impact on society and the economy. 

The WHO today said there have been 9,692 identified cases of the respiratory tract infection and 213 fatalities. 

“As new cases continue to be reported daily, much remains to be understood about this virus, but what is certain is that human mobility is a reality, and we have to find ways within that reality to keep everyone safe and healthy, while limiting the social or economic disruption,” said Jacqueline Weekers, Director of IOM’s Migration Health Division. 

Global health officials gathered at the WHO in Geneva yesterday determined that the situation has now become a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), highlighting the need for "a coordinated international response". The Committee did “not recommend any travel or trade restriction based on the current information available”. 

Based on international health regulations (IHR), although international travel restrictions may intuitively seem like the right thing to do, this is not something that is usually recommended given the social disruption that such restrictions tend to cause. IOM and WHO therefore recommend focusing more on preparedness and response measures. 

“IOM has expertise in helping governments implement the necessary preparedness and response measures, including cross-border coordination, migrant outreach and education, and engagement of communities on the move, to break chains of transmission,” Weekers noted. “IOM has developed community networks with migrants and mobile populations all over the world that can be leveraged for risk communication activities, a key step in helping families be informed and stay healthy.” 

Among various preparedness and response activities, IOM and partners have been supporting governments on questions of health and migration by providing trainings, developing guidance on best practices, improving the hygiene standards of certain facilities, and supporting the drafting of protocols at airports, border crossings and seaports. 

For example, earlier this month, IOM, in partnership with the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) supported the Senegalese Government in carrying out a simulation exercise to strengthen the notification and management systems of the Dakar airport in case of a major public health emergency. 

In addition to offering support and guidance, IOM reiterates the need for inclusive approaches and calls on countries to ensure that migrants and other non-nationals are taken into account in public health planning and messages.  

In line with international health principles, WHO’s Emergency Committee also cautioned against actions that promote stigma or discrimination.  

“Information is key, and this means continuing to share timely and accurate information, based on sound public health principles, is critical,” stressed Dr. Nenette Motus, IOM’s Regional Director for Asia-Pacific. “It is important that we work together to prevent the undue stigmatization of international travelers.”  

For more information please contact Yasmina Guerda, IOM Public Health Communications at HQ, Tel: +41 79 363 17 99, Email: