Update: 27.04.2017

Difficult access to Swiss health care for migrants

Today, migrants do not have the same opportunities regarding health as Swiss locals, said the head of equal opportunities and health at the Federal Health Office (FHO) on October 23, 2006. Looking at clandestine migrants in particular, a Geneva-NGO based found that nearly a quarter of them felt their health had deteriorated since arrival in Switzerland. Not only linguistic and socio-cultural barriers but also failing information lead to this situation. Access to health care is a universal human right.

Migrant-friendly Hospitals

To remedy the situation, the Swiss Hospital Association and the FHO produced a handbook, “Diversity and equal opportunities”, and a documentary film, “Understanding can heal” targeted at the staff of hospitals, clinics and care centres. Training should give them the necessary information to deal with patients from different cultural backgrounds, thereby avoiding misunderstandings and stress. In turn, this should leave to better efficiency and lower treatment costs. The “Migrant-friendly Hospitals” project is part of the governmental “Migration and Public Health 2002-2007”strategy.

Reasons for poorer health among migrants can be found, according to Head of HFO Thomas Spang, in the fact that they are overrepresented in lower socio-economic groups and poorer jobs, and that migrants often live with heightened health risks. He added that this is not only because of linguistic reasons, but also because socio-cultural barriers prevented them from accessing the healthcare system. On another hand, preventative health campaigns and general information does not get through to migrants satisfactorily.

Health of illegal migrants deteriorates in Switzerland

The International Centre of Migration and Health (ICMH) published a study of illegal migrants in Geneva 2 years ago, finding that knowledge about certain health matters was limited: More than 60% could not name one hospital in Geneva and were unaware that special health services were available to clandestine migrants. More than three-quarters of those questioned feared they would be denounced if they approached social services for help. Most were not covered by any form of health insurance and those that sought it were generally refused policies by insurance companies. They were often poorly informed about contraception and family planning. Four out of five said they were depressed and many reported problems of a psychosomatic nature such as ulcers, back pains, chronic headaches, loss of appetite and sleep disorders.

It is also in order to prevent long term social and health problems by migrants presented in this case, that the long term objective of the government’s “Migration and Health” strategy “is the creation of a healthcare system that addresses the needs of a society and clientele that have changed as a result of migration”. It encompasses research, education, prevention, support and therapy for traumatised asylum-seekers.

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