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Responding to diversity: an exploratory study of migrant health policies in Europe

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There has been growing international attention to migrant health, reflecting recognition of the need for health systems to adapt to increasingly diverse populations. However, reports from health policy experts in 25 European countries suggest that by 2009 only eleven countries had established national policies to improve migrant health that go beyond migrants’ statutory or legal entitlement to care. The objective of this paper is to compare and contrast the content of these policies and analyse their strengths and limitations. The analysis suggests that most of the national policies target either migrants or more established ethnic minorities. Countries should address the diverse needs of both groups and could learn from “intercultural” health care policies in Ireland and, in the past, the Netherlands. Policies in several countries prioritise specific diseases or conditions, but these differ and it is not clear whether they accurately reflect real differences in need among countries. Policy initiatives typically involve training health workers, providing interpreter services and/or ‘cultural mediators’, adapting organizational culture, improving data collection and providing information to migrants on health problems and services. A few countries stand out for their quest to increase migrants’ health literacy and their participation in the development and implementation of policy. Progressive migrant health policies are not always sustainable as they can be undermined or even reversed when political contexts change. The analysis of migrant health policies in Europe is still in its infancy and there is an urgent need to monitor the implementation and evaluate the effectiveness of these diverse policies.

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