UNAIDS, IOM: People on the Move Living with HIV Must Have Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

A doctor carries out a consultation for an HIV patient in an IOM-rehabilitated clinic in Aden, Yemen. Photo: IOM 2020/Majed Mohammed.

Geneva – Migrants, refugees, internally displaced as well as crisis-affected and mobile populations who are living with HIV must have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, said the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) today.

People on the move are often more vulnerable to diseases, including COVID-19 and HIV. In addition, people living with and/or affected by HIV and migrants often experience significant inequalities. They frequently face health hazards due to sometimes perilous migration processes, substandard living situations, dangerous working conditions, as well as general lack of information, stigma, discrimination and isolation.  Migrants and displaced people also face a great number of administrative, financial, geographic, social and cultural obstacles in accessing health care with regularity or continuity of care across borders – including access to HIV treatment.

During the pandemic, against a backdrop of rising xenophobia and discrimination, some migrants living with HIV found themselves facing a triple stigma related to (1) testing positive for COVID-19, (2) having a positive HIV status, and (3) being a migrant, all of which also often had serious negative consequences on their mental health. For many migrants and displaced persons living with HIV and other autoimmune diseases, or at risk of contracting HIV, risk exposure went up while availability of HIV services went down.

“To end inequalities and get the global response to HIV on-track to reach the 2030 target of ending AIDS as a public health threat, we must act immediately to reduce the inequalities experienced by migrants and mobile populations. This includes full access to HIV prevention and treatment services and to COVID-19 vaccines,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS ahead of the 48th UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board Meeting taking place next week in Geneva, Switzerland. A progress report on HIV services for migrant and mobile populations as well as refugees and crisis-affected populations will be presented at the meeting.  

“Both the global AIDS response and the COVID-19 response are leaving millions of people behind, including many migrants and forcibly displaced persons,” stated IOM Director General António Vitorino. “We’ve seen that neglecting the health needs of marginalized groups can be devastating for communities. Together, all countries should pledge not to let it happen again.”

On 8 June, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, which specifically mentions migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons, and commits governments to ensuring that “95 per cent of people living with, at risk of and affected by HIV are protected against pandemics, including COVID-19.” To mitigate and treat COVID-19 and HIV, maintaining high standards of health care and protection, along with sharing disseminated and accessible information are crucial.

IOM and UNAIDS urgently call on governments to take concrete action to ensure that national COVID-19 vaccination campaigns include all migrants with co-morbidities such as HIV, in line with WHO’s prioritization recommendations, and that every effort is made to remove the barriers many of them still face in accessing health services, including stigma and discrimination. 

The two organizations, who have been formal partners since 2011, are expanding their longstanding partnership to address multiple forms of exclusion faced by migrants, refugees, crisis-affected and other mobile populations living with HIV, and stand ready to support countries in their efforts to recover from COVID-19 and the global commitment to end AIDS by 2030, through equitable and inclusive health programmes in line with principles of universal health coverage.

For more information please contact:

Yasmina Guerda, Public Health Communications Officer at IOM HQ in Geneva, Tel: +41 79 363 17 99, Email:

Sophie Barton-Knott, UNAIDS Geneva, Tel: +41 79 514 6896, Email: