Geneva – On this World AIDS Day IOM, the UN Migration Agency, joins UNAIDS and other partners to work together towards ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat, by focusing on the right to health for all and by ensuring that quality health care is available and accessible to all.
Despite significant progress in reducing the HIV/AIDS burden around the world, there remain gaps in promoting health for several key populations including migrants and refugees, in accordance with international human rights obligations and relevant international and regional instruments.
“In all regions of the world, punitive and discriminatory laws, policies and practices continue to violate human rights and maintain conditions that leave many populations without access to HIV services,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing on the occasion of World AIDS Day (1 December).
It is encouraging to note that the UNAIDS 2016-2021 Strategy: on the Fast-Track to Ending AIDS, identifies migrants, refugees and crisis-affected populations for targeted responses. However, this will require urgent action across the entire spectrum of rights for these population groups including civil, cultural, economic, political, social, sexual and reproductive rights.
IOM firmly believes that to achieve the vision of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals – to leave no one behind – and meet the Universal Health Coverage targets, it is imperative that the health rights and needs of migrants be adequately addressed across all sectors using evidence and a whole-of-government approach.
“While migration does not automatically equal HIV vulnerability, and not all migrants and mobile populations are at increased risk for HIV, in many contexts these populations are exposed to a unique set of socio-cultural, economic and environmental factors that make them more vulnerable to HIV,” said Jacqueline Weekers, Director of IOM’s Migration Health Division.
Around the world, IOM works with governments and international partners to deliver programmes that adopt a rights-based approach to decrease HIV vulnerability and risk among migrants, by ensuring universal access to HIV prevention, care, treatment and support, and countering misinformation and stigmatization surrounding migration.
For instance, as a component of IOM’s pre-departure health assessment programmes, IOM offers counselling and HIV testing for refugees and migrants traveling to over fifteen host countries. So far in 2017, IOM has provided over 65,000 HIV tests, including pre-and post-test counselling, in more than 50 IOM operations worldwide. Where necessary, IOM provides referrals for follow-up care to local or national health systems.
In South Sudan (2016-2017), populations of humanitarian concern now have improved access to HIV/AIDS counselling, testing, and treatment since IOM completed the roll-out of comprehensive services at the Bentiu, Malakal and Wau Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites in October 2017, benefiting an estimated 171,000 people including members of the host community.
In the Middle East, IOM is implementing the Middle East Response (MER) programme (January 2017 – present), an innovative multi-country approach aimed at supporting the continuum of care in conflict settings by providing essential HIV but also TB and malaria services to refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as host communities in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Jordan.
In Myanmar (2014-2016), IOM established drop-in centres for female sex workers and men who have sex with men in migration-affected localities. The centres offered a space for peer education training, self-help groups, and access to Voluntary Confidential Counselling and Testing (VCCT), regular sexually transmitted infection screening, and anti-retroviral therapy.
One of the key commitments outlined in the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants adopted in 2016 was ‘to address the vulnerabilities to HIV and specific health-care needs experienced by migrants and refugees’.
The Declaration also called upon Member States and partners ‘to take the necessary steps to reduce the stigma, discrimination and violence they face on the basis of their HIV status, in addition to supporting their right to health and access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support’.
To achieve these goals, it is imperative to ensure that the health of migrants and refugees is adequately addressed in the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration, and Global Compact for Refugees.
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