Migrant Health an Increasingly Important Policy Concern for Asia

Bangladesh – Governments must  play a greater role in ensuring labour migrants can access affordable health care while abroad,  representatives from nine Asian countries heard at a major regional consultation on migrant health which closed in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, yesterday (5/3).

The event, organized by IOM and the Government of Bangladesh examined how government health services should be aligned to accommodate the unique needs of labour migrants. Delegates agreed to work towards the creation of multilateral agreements between sending and receiving countries to ensure health is included within migration policies.

They also undertook to look at how to make the private sector more accountable for the health care of migrants it employs, and improve migrants’ access to health information in their own languages.

The regional consultation was founded on the soon-to-be-published IOM study on the “Baseline Assessment of the Health Vulnerability of Migrants in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan”. 

It pinpoints the high costs of healthcare and language barriers as key reasons why migrants fail to seek appropriate healthcare while abroad.  According to the study, 49 per cent of Bangladeshi and 32 per cent of Pakistani migrant workers found healthcare unaffordable while abroad, and as a result many chose to forgo both treatment and health insurance. 

In the case of Pakistan, migrants had no pre-departure training on health issues, and only 25 per cent of returnees had received health advice while abroad. Of these, 45 per cent reported difficulties understanding the content.

All nine participating countries – Cambodia, Philippines, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Viet Nam, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – shared experiences during the meeting, and agreed on the following key recommendations:

  • To establish health insurance packages at destination country through Governmental Cooperation for Migrants (following Thailand’s Health Premiums for Migrants).
  • To increase accountability of agencies and employers for the wellbeing of migrants, especially regarding healthcare coverage, contract transparency, acceptable working hours, and safe workplaces with zero-tolerance policies on sexual abuse and violence.
  • To produce language-appropriate health promotion, addressing relevant diseases, occupational hazards, mental health problems, sexual violence and the importance of prevention and seeking healthcare.
  • Destination-specific health information should be made available pre-departure.

Secretary for Bangladesh’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Syed Manjurul Islam told the meeting that his government is at an early phase of programme development. “We recognize that our current national health policy does not refer to migrant health and has no provisions to ensure specific responses. This is a major gap and that’s why we are grateful for IOM’s support in this endeavour.”

Sarat Dash, Chief of Mission, IOM Bangladesh, reaffirmed IOM’s commitment supporting governments on a comprehensive strategy for promoting and protecting the health of international migrants. “IOM is ready to support the Government and other important stakeholders in taking the lead in the process of developing a migration health strategy for the benefit of all.”

For more information, please contact

Sarat Dash
IOM Bangladesh
Email: sdash@iom.int
Tel. +8802 9889765