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Links between migration and infectious disease in Europe

The healthcare screening and treatment processes for migrants entering the EU need to be better evaluated and coordinated across Member States -  to prevent the potential spread of infectious diseases such as TB and HIV - The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) has urged in a statement today (18 September 2007). 

The call comes ahead of a conference on the public health implications of migration on the 27 September to be staged by the Portuguese Presidency of the EU.

Professor Volker ter Meulen, President of the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences, Germany and Chair the report's working group, said: "The public health implications of migration have received comparatively little attention at the political level.  Most migrants to the EU are young and healthy, however, infectious diseases may well be more common among some groups.  What is needed is a screening and treatment process that will determine the scale of the problem and tackle it, while still allowing migrants to openly enter the EU."

The statement raises issues where questions need to be answered including:

  • the burden of infectious diseases in migrant groups
  • the nature and degree of public health risk from migration
  • the nature of health inequalities between migrants and the rest of the population
  • the efficacy of alternative screening approaches

Professor Volker ter Meulen, President of the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences, Germany and Chair the report's working group said: "Over the past two centuries, the average distance travelled by humans has increased a thousand fold. This presents us with complex new challenges.  When faced with these challenges we cannot just make generalisations about migrant groups or infectious diseases. 

He continued, "Screening and management must be appropriate to the circumstances.  Also, detection of disease must not be used to deny entry as this could deter people from coming to screening or encourage illegal migration.  This would increase the risk of the spread of disease. The emphasis must be on ensuring effective treatment."

The statement also calls for:

  • Evaluation and sharing of information on current screening practices across the EU
  • Facilitation of healthcare access and improved healthcare follow-up for migrants
  • The development of information and communication systems to improve awareness and support interaction between patients and the healthcare system
  • Coordination of strategies for screening and follow-up practices for high risk groups across the EU
  • The development of consensus on those infectious diseases most relevant to migration

The statement concludes that the EU must also take a lead role in strengthening public health capacity in newer member states and in developing countries

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