Universal Health Coverage: IOM Committed to Ensuring Migrants are Included in Sustainable Development Goals Target

IOM focus group discussion on health in Kok Pae migrant community. Mae Sot, Thailand. Photo: IOM 2017/Benjamin Suomela

Geneva – On Universal Health Coverage Day (12/12) the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other global partners are promoting efforts to ensure Universal Health Coverage (UHC) indeed becomes a reality.

The theme of the day, ‘Unite for Universal Health Coverage: Now is the time for collective action,’ provides an opportunity for partners around the globe to engage in multi-sectoral dialogue and advocacy efforts each works towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the actions outlined in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM); and the Global Action Plan to Promote the Health of Refugees and Migrants.

Target 3.8 of the SDGs calls on the global community to “achieve universal health coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health care services, and access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all”; the GCM presents a significant opportunity to promote inter-sectoral partnerships and policies that enable migrants to be included in the global health discourse, in the spirit of leaving no one behind.

“Universal health coverage is receiving the necessary global attention, particularly during the United National General Assembly this past September, with Heads of State calling for action and firm commitments to achieve Target 3.8 of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Jacqueline Weekers, IOM’s Director of Migration Health. “Universal Health Coverage will not be achieved if migrants are left out of the equation.”

IOM, in collaboration with member states, is promoting UHC through advocacy, research, policy and implementation of projects. Support was provided to the Government of Chile to develop the Public Health Policy for International Migrants in Chile; launched in October 2017, the policy is the first of its kind for Latin America and aims to respond to the health needs of international migrants in Chile in a comprehensive way, thus contributing to UHC. The policy ensures the right to health for all persons including citizens and foreign nationals; promotes a system that is migrant-sensitive; and addresses reduction in barriers to health service access.

Since May 2015, IOM has been implementing a regional project supporting the governments of Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen in migration management by focusing on promoting health and well-being for migrants in the five countries. Between May 2015 and January 2018, the project supported national and regional round table dialogues and provided direct assistance to 55,828 migrants both within and outside of detention centres across the five countries, notably through direct service provision, community health workers and Assisted Voluntary Return & Reintegration programmes.

Through these types of projects, IOM is promoting evidence-based and inclusive policies and programmes to ensure UHC does not leave out migrants, and promotes “health for all”, in alignment with the World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolutions 61.17 on the health of migrants and 70.15 on promoting the health of refugees and migrants, as well as the WHO Framework of guiding principles and priorities to promote the health of refugees and migrants. A high reliance on out-of-pocket health payments often results in catastrophic health spending, and migrants without access to health insurance may be particularly at risk.

In advance of the High-Level Meeting on UHC at the United Nations General Assembly in 2019, IOM has been involved in global, regional and national discussions on UHC. In November 2017 IOM joined the UHC2030 partnership and continues to work with partners to ensure that the health of migrants is explicitly addressed in national and global development strategies.

IOM participated in the 2017 Tokyo Declaration on Universal Health Coverage, which recognized the need to prioritize the most vulnerable members of the world’s population including migrants, as well as the 2018 ministerial meeting in Oman — which produced the Salalah Declaration expanding the goal of UHC to non-nationals and emphasizing the close relationship between UHC and health security, especially relating to refugees, migrants and internally displaced people.

Most recently, IOM underlined the proven economic benefits of providing primary health care to migrants during the Kazakhstan Global Conference on Primary Health Care: Towards Health for All on the 40th Anniversary of the Declaration of Alma Ata.

The realization of universal health coverage for migrants will require innovative policies, and sustainable financial mechanisms. IOM will continue to work with partners to champion initiatives that promote access to high quality health services for migrants to make UHC a reality.

For more information please contact IOM HQ:
Eliana Barragan, Tel: +41227179506, Email:
Vanessa Okoth-Obbo, Tel: +41227179366, Email: