Adjusting health financing for people fleeing conflict: WHO issues new guidance for countries in Europe

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WHO has released new guidance on how host countries can adjust health financing to meet the needs of people fleeing conflict.

Since the beginning of the Russian military offensive in Ukraine on February 24, 2022, more than 4.5 million people have fled Ukraine to seek refuge in neighboring countries. Although these countries responded quickly, the sudden arrival of large numbers of people put tremendous pressure on their health systems, which were already pushed to the brink by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

New policy guidelines developed by the WHO Barcelona Office for Health Systems Financing now outline health financing actions for countries to ensure incoming refugees can access a full range of health services quickly and safely. financial or administrative obstacles.

Removing communication barriers

When people flee conflict and other humanitarian disasters, they need access to a range of health services and medicines. Host countries can ensure that these services are provided to all in several ways.

The new WHO guidelines encourage countries to remove all administrative and communication barriers for incoming refugees.

Welcome centers that offer mandatory or voluntary health checks are often the first places new arrivals can get information about local health systems and secure access to health services. Many countries in the WHO European Region, including Austria, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Republic of Moldova and Romania, carry out health checks in reception centres.

However, many people fleeing the war in Ukraine are living in shelters or private homes. WHO/Europe encourages countries to set up helplines to help people in all possible settings when seeking health information and advice.

Extension of health coverage

Financial and administrative obstacles can often be a burden for incoming refugees. WHO/Europe encourages countries to eliminate or simplify administrative rules so that refugees can quickly access all health services, including medicines. This includes taking the necessary steps to prevent informal payments.

Several countries in Europe offer only a limited right to state-funded health services to refugees and asylum seekers. Countries should consider extending entitlements to people fleeing conflict and ensure that the process of obtaining and maintaining coverage is simple and quick.

Income support may also be considered for refugees to ensure they can cover the cost of meeting their basic needs and the indirect costs of seeking health care, such as transport.

Some countries’ health benefit packages may not include all the services needed to meet the health needs of people fleeing conflict, which include an increased need for specific mental health services and language and communication support.

In these cases, adjustments should be quickly introduced, including the addition of services such as free COVID-19 vaccination, cancer patient care, psychological counseling or support, interpretation services and essential dental care.

Provision of additional funding

WHO/Europe recognizes that the provision of health care to refugees will have a significant impact on the health budgets of host countries.

Allocating additional public funds to meet increased health needs can help relieve this pressure. Increased external funding, particularly for middle-income countries and those hosting larger numbers of refugees, would provide more effective support. Early establishment of ways to monitor and report on health spending for people fleeing conflict can help measure the impact on health budgets.

Although the new WHO guidance was rapidly developed in response to the current Ukraine crisis, the policy tools apply to all countries in Europe and Central Asia hosting refugees fleeing conflict, regardless of their country of origin.

When people are forced to flee their homes because of violence, their health needs move with them. WHO/Europe encourages all countries to continue to provide the full range of health services to all people crossing their borders, whether they seek temporary protection, seek asylum or are registered as refugees.

WHO/Europe will continue to provide technical support to countries to respond to health emergencies and minimize disruptions in the delivery of essential health care services.

To find out more about WHO’s response to the humanitarian emergency in Ukraine, visit the Emergencies in Ukraine section of the WHO/Europe website.


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