Migrants fleeing conflict: a trial run for mass-migration due to climate change

Refugees, Budapest station, Hungary. Credit: Rebecca Harms
via Wikimedia Commons

 AS I write this I have a sense of déjà vu.
Public health professionals as far back as the 6th ECTMIH conference [2009], which I attended, recognised that very little was being done in Europe to address mass migration (at that time from Sub-Saharan Africa). Travel medicine specialists were refocusing their research onto migration and asking why this was not being reflected in travel medicine text books and journals.

“Does anyone ever ask if migrants suffer from diarrhoea?” asked Manuel Corachan [CRESIB, Spain], one of the plenary lecturers at the conference.  

At that time, Italy (conference host) was bearing the brunt of illegal migration. The conference debated the needs of illegal migrants to Italy, the importance to public health in the host country of giving them access to health services and of having an awareness of disease prevalence & cultural attitudes in the migrant’s home country.  In 2011, the  organisers of ECTMIH , the Federation of European Societies for Tropical Medicine and International Health (FESTMIH) devoted the entire conference to “global change, migration & health”. 

But this foresight was not just ethically driven, it was in expectation of mass migration into Europe due to climate change.

What we are now seeing, less than 6 years later, headlining our daily news and social media is a trial run for what is to come. What was previously perceived as a problem arising out of climate change has hit the EU earlier than might have been anticipated because of people fleeing conflict and dictatorship.

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“A Wakeup Call” on Climate Change and Global Health

Climate change will affect human health through multiple routes according to speakers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) on Friday. They were there to launch “Climate Change and Global Health”, a book that analyses impacts on human health from heat waves, vector-borne diseases to conflict.

Sir Andy Haines, Professor of Public Health and Primary Care, and former director of the LSHTM, described the book is a “wakeup call”, “creating a new paradigm that will define the issue for decades to come.” He highlighted the role of the late Tony McMichael, a contributor to the book, who developed the concept of the “healthy worker effect” (the observation that people in employment tend to be healthier) and pioneered the study of climate change and global health.


Colin Butler, at the LSHTM, London

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