Saturday 18 May 2013

New Report Shows How the Crisis in Europe and Rising Xenophobia Limit Healthcare of Vulnerable Groups

PICUM Report
11 April 2013

The organisation Doctors of the World held a conference on “Access to health care in Europe in times of crisis and rising xenophobia” in Brussels on 9 April 2013. The aim of the conference was to present a report summarising the outcomes of a study carried out in 14 cities in seven European countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Spain and the UK) in 2012 which shows the impact of the EU crisis and rising xenophobia  on access to healthcare for people facing multiple vulnerability factors. The report also provides background information particularly on the situation of access to healthcare for undocumented migrants in each of the seven countries.

The results were presented by four of the organisation’s national members.  Thierry Brigaud (France) and Michel Degueldre (Belgium) presented the results of the European survey, addressing the social determinants of health, the barriers to health care and the health status of the population in the 14 cities studied. In this frame, they also invalidated myths such as the perception that migrants are “health tourists” or the idea that migrants do not contribute to financing the public health system. 

Álvaro González, president of Doctors of the World Spain, addressed the situation in his country in relation to imposed austerity measures and how this is destroying the public health system. The Royal Decree Ley 16/2012 established the copayment of medication and the exclusion of adult irregular migrants from access to health care. According to González, the health system model is changing from universal healthcare to an insurance system where healthcare is limited to the participation in the labour market.  He noted that the Millennium Development Goals have established universal health care as a political objective. Instead, Spain limits the number of groups receiving treatment, the number of health services and overall spending.  This development directly affects migrants in an irregular situation and is untenable from different points of view: it violates human rights treaties, it is more expensive since the costs of emergency treatment are higher than the costs of preventive care, it is unethical and it leads to public health problems. He stressed the important role of civil society mobilizations to fight these tendencies.

Nikitas Kanakis of Doctors of the World Greece explained how rising xenophobia in Greece also constitutes a problem of public health since people facing multiple vulnerability factors such as undocumented migrants, who need particular protection of the public health system, do not dare to ask for help out of fear of violent acts. Therefore, Doctors of the World Greece launched a project called “Enough!” to help victims to get access to justice, to talk to youth and to create a coalition of people willing to stop discrimination and violence. 

As a result, Doctors of the World demands universal health coverage in every country of the world, solidarity, egalitarian and open public health systems and access to health care free of cost. Moreover, the organization calls on all governments in Europe to protect the whole population and to implement recommendations made at EU level on providing equal access to healthcare . Concerning undocumented migrants, Doctors of the World ask EU Member States to enforce the opinions of the Fundamental Rights Agency. This means changing restrictive legal frameworks so that everyone can access all forms of essential preventive and curative healthcare and that Member States should make more effort to inform undocumented migrants and healthcare professionals about their rights to access healthcare.

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