The First World Congress on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health (MERH2018) was held in Edinburgh in May 2018. This landmark event attracted more than 700 participants from over 50 countries. It brought together many disciplines with the aim of sharing information and ideas on the complex health issues related to migration, ethnicity and racism. The negative health experiences of refugees, indigenous minorities and marginalised groups such as the Roma were given special attention.
The Congress concluded with the Edinburgh Declaration. It recognised the fundamental and historically beneficial nature of human migration but highlighted the numerous actual and potential disadvantages to health facing migrants and ethnic minorities throughout the world today. It stated that an interdisciplinary approach is essential for understanding and tackling the consequent inequities and ensuring sound ethical foundations for actions and subsequent policies.
One of the Declaration’s recommendations was to establish a Global Society to integrate academic, professional and community work on health and health care in this field. First put forward by Prof Raj Bhopal, the MERH2018 chair, this proposal was debated and endorsed during the Congress.
Since then, an interim working committee has been set up. Led by Prof Bernadette Kumar, the president of the EUPHA Migrant and Ethnic Minority Section, its first tasks have been to ensure global representation, convert the concept of a Global Society into a workable mandate for action and agree the immediate steps needed to launch the Society. The EUPHA office has generously acted as the interim secretariat and the remaining funds from MERH2018 have been made available to the committee.
In recent years, international attention has been focused on the plight of large numbers of migrants facing danger and death in and around the Mediterranean, of Rohingya escaping Myanmar and of Central American migrants seeking entry into the United States. Less visible are millions more seeking a better life in another country or region for many different reasons. At the same time, there are established ethnic minorities in many countries who have suffered disadvantage and exploitation for decades or even centuries as a result of the attitudes of majority or dominant populations and the discriminatory policies and practices of their governments and institutions.
While the negative health consequences for individuals and families can be obvious, gathering and disseminating reliable and convincing evidence of actual harm to health and its causes can be extremely difficult to do. It needs skilled researchers trained in a variety of disciplines, and with sufficient funding and permissions, to carry out the work at the individual, community and societal level. They need to study not only the health of individuals but also the physical, cultural and political environments they inhabit, and the health and other relevant services they may or may not have access to. Accurate, clearly communicated and timely information is needed to inform ongoing debate involving the affected communities themselves, the media, and the policymakers and practitioners in a position to bring about change. Otherwise the field remains dominated by the misinformation and prejudice that perpetuate inequity and injustice.
A number of groups already exist that address some issues e.g. migrant health or the health of indigenous minorities; or a range of issues in one part of the world e.g. Europe or North America; or a range of disciplines e.g. social sciences, clinical medicine or health policy (Appendix 2). To our knowledge there is none that provides a forum for all these perspectives and agencies. The core idea behind the Global Society is thus to foster the constructive interaction between the many participants in this complex field throughout the world and to promote policies and practices that can protect and improve health.
Main Objectives and Activities
Planning, organising and implementing a World Congress every four years and other smaller events at more frequent intervals.
Building and maintaining a user-friendly digital repository of useful information, including reports, research papers, abstracts and PowerPoint presentations.
Establishing and maintaining an active global network of people who share our values and objectives.