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What I learned at the WHO Europe Summer School on Refugee and Migrant Health

By Clara Affun-Adegbulu
on August 18, 2017

About this time a month ago, I walked into the arrival lounge of Catania International Airport, looking bleary-eyed for the shuttle driver who was supposed to pick me up. I was grateful to see the placard that had the words ‘WHO Summer School’ inscribed on it, because I was suddenly overcome with fatigue and felt lightheaded.

The flight seemed to have lasted for eternity, and I slept fitfully throughout the journey – the consequence of my bad decision to spend the previous night sleepless at a concert. For nothing in the world would I miss a Nigerian artist playing in Brussels. However, how could I as a budding global health and development researcher miss the chance to attend such an important event? I decided to do both, and while I regret attending the concert where I hadn’t – by the time I left at 4am to catch my flight – seen the recalcitrant headlining act, I am pleased to say that the Summer School which ran from the July 10 – 14, 2017, exceeded my expectations.

The Summer School which took place in Syracuse, Italy was entitled ‘Managing the public health aspects of migration’ and had been billed as a forum intended to promote dialogue between policymakers, researchers and practitioners. It was supposed to be “a space for bridging research, policy and practice; sharing practical, real-world knowledge and experience; and fostering debate and critical thinking,” with the aim of providing  “the necessary guidance, training and support tools to enable public health workers, service providers and planners to understand and implement appropriate migrant-sensitive interventions, while enabling the sharing of knowledge and skills among participating countries.”

I applied for a place on the course because as a migrant myself, a nurse and a student of public health, I am acutely aware of health inequalities particularly concerning people on the move. I am passionate about improving health outcomes and access to healthcare for such vulnerable people, and I felt that the Summer School would equip me with the knowledge and skills needed to make me a better advocate and practitioner. It turned out I was right, but not for the reasons I expected.

The course content itself was very interesting, and I gained some practical skills from the workshop ‘Planning in advance to manage large influxes of refugees and migrants,’ where we were given a scenario and told to make a contingency plan to deal with it. I also enjoyed the plenary session on the epidemiology of refugee and migrant health, particularly the lecture on communicable diseases given by Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, the director of University College London’s Institute for Global Health. He told us with some irony, that in these days of cheap flights and mass tourism, pandemics are more likely to be started by infected non-migrant travelers jet-setting around the world, than by refugees who use longer more treacherous routes.

Other highlights include the lecture on culture and co-production in migrant health programmes by Roberta Blivins, Professor of History at the University of Warwick. She reminded us of the role of cultural awareness in health provision for migrants and the importance of incorporating migrants into the ‘public’ of public health.

The panel discussion on managing the public health aspects of refugees and migrants was also very interesting. Representatives from the ministries of health in Turkey, Greece and Serbia were invited to talk about their country’s experience, including their challenges, successes and findings. Although the discussion was indeed sobering, it was also encouraging to hear for instance that the Ministry of Health in Turkey, financed by the World Health Organization, now had an accreditation process for integrating Syrian medical professionals into the local health system.

Apart from the networking opportunities the summer school provided me with, the best part of the entire five days for me was the time spent discussing, debating and exchanging ideas with other young researchers. It was interesting to hear about the work other people were doing, and inspiring to see my passion reflected in them, as we shared stories and experiences.

At the end of the programme, we decided to keep the network going and have formalised it with a Facebook group The Migration and Health Network which is open to anyone interested in the health and healthcare of migrants.

Outside of ‘classes,’ I enjoyed the sunshine, the delicious Italian food and time with new friends, although I sometimes felt uncomfortable about some of the ‘lavish’ treatment we received.

In all, the summer school was a good first attempt, and I applaud the organisers for the initiative. I hope however that they will take all the feedback we provided into account when organising the next edition.

Professor Abubakar’s presentation can be found here.







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