Over the last few years, there has been renewed attention to the health of migrants — largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The very process of displacement can be seen as a social determinant of health, that among other factors, may have an impact on the vulnerability of migrants to health risks and their susceptibility to communicable and non-communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and HIV.

Broader social factors such as the responsiveness of health systems to migrants’ needs, the level of health literacy, legal status in the host country, stigma, and discrimination can also influence the health of migrants and their access to health care. And as the recent pandemic made clear, the health of migrants is an indispensable part of the well-being of any society, and equal access to health care is seen as a priority not only for migrants themselves, but for the whole population.

The country is currently home to over one million international migrants (11.3% of the population). In the past two years an increased number of migrants have used Belarus as a transit country and often remained stranded. Over 9,000 Ukrainian refugees are also currently staying in Belarus.

A migrant visiting one of the sights in Minsk (© IOM 2022)

In Belarus, one of the greatest challenges is the lack of harmonization between migration policies and health policies. As a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Belarus has for the last two decades focused on promoting labour mobility between other CIS countries, where there’s free movement of goods, services and people. However, the adjustments to national health provisions for migrants have lagged behind the simplification of employment procedures within the CIS. Additionally, there is a need to align with international recommendations on increasing access to health care under the principle of universal health coverage.

IOM Belarus Chief of Mission Mahym Orazmuhamedova (left) and Deputy Minister of Healthcare of Belarus Aleksandr Tarasenko (right) discuss the health project during a Coordination Council meeting in Minsk on 15 July 2022 (©IOM 2022 / Hanna Kalichava)

With this dynamic context, an IOM project is supporting the Belarusian government in its efforts to align its migration health policies and programmes with international best practices, with a particular focus on preventing infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, and COVID-19.

“Reducing the health risks associated with migration and ensuring equal access to health services for migrants and their families is an important aspect of reducing migrants’ vulnerability, ensuring their well-being and improving public health indicators in countries of origin and destination, and achieving the positive impact of migration on community development.”

Mrs. Mahym Orazmuhamedova, Chief of Mission, IOM Belarus

With IOM Development Fund support, the project has first sought to conduct research to identify migrants’ health needs and vulnerabilities as it relates to communicable diseases. Starting with a desk review of the legal frameworks, the study has outlined policies and regulations affecting access to health services in Belarus and determined the health system’s responsiveness to migrants’ gender needs. Additionally, the study has taken a look at the country’s health statistics to see to what extent this data reflects international migrants and their interaction with the health care system. All of this work will ultimately determine how migrant-related data are shared among relevant sectors for policy development and will promote the inclusion of migrants into national vaccination plans.

“The project will be essential in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular the good health and well-being, and reducing inequalities.”

Mr. Aleksandr Tarasenko, Deputy Minister of Healthcare, Belarus

Based on the research results, IOM will conduct capacity development activities for national authorities to better prevent communicable diseases among migrants. IOM training modules on migration and health have been selected through discussions with stakeholders and will be adapted to the Belarusian context to be used for training purposes. Covering topics such as health needs, challenges and risks among migrants and a multi-sectoral approach to migrant health, the trainings are planned to be conducted before the end of 2023 to meet the gaps in the existing system of access of migrants to health services.

The article has been published in the 2023 spring edition of the IOM Development Fund newsletter.

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals