By Faith Atieno

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched the Global Competency Standards for refugee and migrant health services document that aims to strengthen countries’ capacity to provide health services to refugees and migrants worldwide

Currently, more people than ever are living in a country other than the one in which they were born with estimates showing more than one billion people are on the move.

In 2020, approximately 281 million people were international migrants, representing the current 3.6 per cent of the global population, this is according to a publication by the United Nation.

A wide range of factors contributes to this migration-while some individuals migrate out of choice, others do so out of necessity, according to a press release by the WHO. One in 30 people is a migrant and one in 95 is forcibly displaced- a number that is expected to increase as a result of poverty, lack of human security and access to basic services, conflict, environmental degradation as well as natural disasters.

“While facing similar health risks to their host communities, refugees and migrants may have specific health needs and are often vulnerable to adverse health outcomes due to their mobility, living and working conditions,” said Dr Santino Severoni, Director of the WHO Health and Migration Programme.

He added that the refugees and migrants face obstacles including language and cultural differences, institutional discrimination and restricted use of health services in both countries of transit and destination-all of which shape their interactions with the host country’s health system and health workforce.

The development of the Standards and their adaptation to country contexts will allow health workers to improve practices in culturally sensitive care, leading to better health outcomes for refugees and migrants across the world.

With the right training, the health workers are able to develop the competencies which are integrated into health care approaches, to adapt and provide services appropriate for each individual’s culture and needs-ensuring the resilience of health systems to respond to the health care needs of refugees and migrants is strengthened.

Being the first set of Competency Standards to be developed for health workers who provide health services to refugees and migrants, as well as for educational institutions to incorporate them into health worker training, the document is accompanied by a Knowledge Guide and Curriculum Guide to support its operationalization.


The launch comes at a time when COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the health services across the world, putting these groups at heightened risks.

“2021 is the International Year of Health and Care Workers, which recognizes the unwavering dedication of millions of workers at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic response, and thanks them for their vital role in ensuring our health and wellbeing,” stated Jim Campbell, Director of WHO’s Health Workforce Department.

“The same workers must be supported with a competency-based education, as outlined in the Standards and accompanying Guides and for which there is compelling evidence of impact, to take us a step closer towards universal health coverage for all populations, including for refugees and migrants.”