“It’s Time” to Protect Migrants from TB – New IOM Study Shows Migrants Left Behind

Migration Health

Tbilisi – A pioneering study into tuberculosis and migration shows an urgent need for migrant-focused healthcare to protect extremely vulnerable groups from contracting the killer disease.

The study was carried out by IOM in the South Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and reinforced what the Organization has seen on the global stage.

“Migrants often have limited access to health services due to mobility, inadequate information on health-related issues and discrimination,” said Dr. Jaime Calderon, Senior Migration Health Adviser in IOM’s Vienna Regional office, in a statement for World TB Day.

“The South Caucasus is an excellent place to study TB among migrants as people are on the move within the three countries, to and from Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan and farther afield,” he added. “This is the first study of its kind and it has given us solid evidence that migrants are being left behind when it comes to protecting them – and the communities they live in – from deadly diseases.”

Although there have been substantial decreases in case notifications over the past decade, TB remains a significant public health issue in the South Caucasus. In 2017, Armenia had 812 cases (27.1 per 100,000 people), Azerbaijan had 7,129 (67 per 100,000) and Georgia had 2,927 notified cases (69 per 100,000). The rates in most EU countries is under 10 per 100,000.

IOM’s study, which was carried out with full participation of the three national governments, consisted of surveys, qualitative and quantitative research, rapid assessment, sampling, data collection, screening, interviews, laboratory testing, and data analysis.

It also looked at migration and HIV, as the two diseases are often found together, and take a high toll on migrants.

“We found that among migrants in the three countries there was a lack of knowledge about specific risks, signs and symptoms of HIV and TB,” said Dr Calderon. “In addition, there was wide agreement that migrants would not seek HIV or TB testing unless required for the purposes of travel, work, on the recommendation of a health-care provider or if they get very sick. This is a loud warning bell for all concerned – Governments, UN agencies, health-related NGOs and the general public.”

The migration process can expose migrants, particularly those in situations of vulnerability, to health risks associated with perilous journeys, including exposure to infectious and communicable diseases, severe psycho-social stressors, violence and abuses.

Ending tuberculosis (TB), HIV and viral hepatitis by 2030 is part of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on health and well-being. A number of socioeconomic and environmental determinants affect ongoing epidemics in European and central Asian countries.

Within the UN Issue-based Coalition on Health and Well-being in Europe and Central Asia, WHO/Europe, together with sister UN agencies, has developed a UN common position paper on ending TB, HIV and viral hepatitis in Europe and central Asia through intersectoral collaboration.

Despite the substantial health improvements that have been reached in the WHO European Region, not all are benefiting, in particular, the marginalized and vulnerable parts of society including victims of human trafficking, migrants and refugees.

Despite the fastest decline in TB incidence in the world, by an average of 5.3 per cent a year since 2006, this region bears the highest proportion of multi drug-resistant TB globally, with only about half of these patients successfully treated.

The full report can be downloaded here.

For more information please contact Sanja Celebic-Lukovac at IOM Georgia, Tel: +96262003227, Email: scelebic@iom.int

  • A pioneering study into tuberculosis and migration was carried out by IOM in the South Caucasus countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.