Migrants should be involved in research on their health, says a new WHO report, launched on International Migrants Day 2022. International policies are clear that communities should be involved in health research. However, this is not always the case for underserved communities such as migrants. This new report serves as a step-by-step guide on how to adopt a participatory approach in migrant health research.

The report shows that a participatory approach can improve migrant-sensitive service delivery and foster empowerment. There is no one-size-fits-all method, but qualitative approaches, including arts-based methods, have proven particularly effective, as has combining these with quantitative research.

Dr Gundo Weiler, Director of the Division of Country Support, Emergency Preparedness and Response at WHO/Europe, explains, “We need to ensure that health systems respond to the needs of all, including migrants. Including their perspectives in research can help us to ask the right questions to find appropriate answers and solutions to their health needs.”

Under-representation leads to biased health policies

Under-representation of migrants has significant negative effects on health policies, practices and outcomes. It leads to policies and practices that are biased towards majority population groups, with a lack of consideration for diverse migrant groups such as labour migrants, undocumented migrants and unaccompanied minors. Inequality and discrimination remain key issues in health-care provision.

To counter this, meaningful participatory research goes beyond mere consultation, involving migrants throughout the whole research process from agenda setting through to data collection and implementation. Participatory research can also involve other groups such as health organizations, other service users, members of civil society, health-care professionals, community leaders, policy-makers and academic researchers.

The WHO Collaborating Centre for Migrants’ Involvement in Health Research at the University of Limerick, Ireland, has piloted such an approach. Using an arts-based approach, they worked with about 20 migrants to identify research gaps and priorities on migrant health in Ireland.

Policy considerations

The report proposes that policy-makers promote migrant participation in health research within national strategies, through stable research funding, and through capacity-building for researchers, health policy-makers, and service planners and providers.

The report was developed by the migration and health programme of WHO/Europe in collaboration with the WHO Collaborating Center for Migrants’ Involvement in Health Research.

Professor Kerstin Mey, President of the University of Limerick, emphasizes, “Improving refugee and migrant health is an important aspect of developing equitable, inclusive and cohesive societies and thus a key element of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The University of Limerick is proud to have partnered with WHO/Europe to develop this important publication that will build capacity for refugees and migrants to have a voice in research to optimize their health and well-being.”

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