Dealing with two health emergencies: HIV and COVID-19 in migrant shelters

Dealing with two health emergencies: HIV and COVID-19 in migrant shelters


The living conditions of migrants, the intention to migrate to a previously established country of destination and the timing and logistics of migratory dynamics have been severely affected by COVID-19. The health emergency has implied not only the closure of borders, and the consequent restrictions on mobility, but also an increase in the health vulnerabilities of the migrant population, which on numerous occasions has been stranded in shelters in border areas. Such is the case of Haitian, and to a lesser extent Cuban, African and Asian migrants, whose migratory projects have been momentarily interrupted by the pandemic and who are now sheltering in Panama, near the border with Colombia, as their itinerary was obstructed by the border closures.

However, a United Nations report on the conditions of migrant shelters in North America indicates that these centers often lack the tools to offer adequate care to migrants and effectively implement health measures against the pandemic. These health deficits translate into precarious access to health services, and this not only exposes migrants to a greater risk of not being able to counteract COVID-19, but also deteriorates the health status of people who already live with another disease: HIV.

HIV, acronym for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a retrovirus that infects the cells of the immune system, causing their gradual debilitation. This term is frequently associated with another acronym, AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, which refers in particular to the symptoms and physical consequences generated by the virus. Although HIV is only spread through unprotected sexual contact, exposure to infected blood, or in some cases from a sick mother and her child during pregnancy, it is important to maintain high standards of protection and information in migrant reception centres to protect people who already suffer from this disease and prevent transmission.

As an IOM information sheet highlights, although migratory processes per se do not mean that the migrant population is more vulnerable to HIV, other factors such as lack of access to health services and information, lack of access to preventive measures or the high risk of facing threats such as being forced to have sexual relations in exchange for money or shelter, are a challenge for the physical integrity of the migrant population. Likewise, unsafe living conditions, discrimination in access to social services, and the lack of social capital exacerbate the exposure of migrants to HIV disease.

In this sense, the pandemic may have worsened these circumstances, increasing the precariousness of people on the move living with HIV and deteriorating their health status. In this regard, according to an analysis by the World Health Organization, due to the pandemic, and in particular due to the closure of land and air transport services and the weakening of health services, 73 countries are at risk of antiretroviral (ARV) drug shortages, while 24 countries reported low ARV stocks.

How can the personnel of shelter assist people living with HIV during the pandemic?

The report published by UNAIDS “Guide for the management of people on the move living with HIV in reception centers during the COVID-19 emergency” provide some recommendations addressed to the staff of shelters, reception centres and those who hold decisive positions in the strategic and technical levels, in order to guarantee adequate care for people living with HIV in migratory contexts. Some of the recommendations are:

Prevent HIV transmission: Providing rapid tests for the identification of people living with HIV; guaranteeing access to water and sanitation; disseminating information on protection measures against COVID-19 and HIV and supplying condoms, ensuring their availability and accessibility of information on the correct use.

Prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV: Prioritizing the availability of rapid HIV and COVID-19 tests for pregnant women; providing specific care to newborns in shelters; disseminating notions about supplementary nutrition to breastfeeding mothers living with HIV and preventing newborns from coming into contact with breast milk, providing infant formulas.

Defend and respect human rights: Ensuring that everyone can access emergency and health services, regardless of sex, age, ethnicity, gender and immigration status; documenting and denouncing the situations of violation of human rights in shelters, emergency centres and reception areas.

COVID-19 may be further aggravating the health conditions of migrants living with HIV. Although the two viruses are transmitted in different ways, maintaining high standards of health care and protection, along with sharing disseminated and accessible information are crucial prerequisites to prevent the spread of both. Taking into account the multiple and intertwined vulnerabilities of migrants living with HIV means fostering the development of new capacities and attention focused on their needs.


Turn on the microphones! Five keys to giving youth a voice on migration issues

Turn on the microphones! Five keys to giving youth a voice on migration issues
Categoria: Communication & Migration
Autor: Guest Contributor

Radio is still a medium that, especially in rural areas where access to the Internet is difficult, is still very much alive and shows itself to be an accessible alternative for the population. Whether in the car, in an app on the phone or in a device that only works with batteries in the most remote areas, the radio is there a few steps away and almost effortlessly. Entertaining us, informing us and accompanying our daily activities. From the largest cities to the most sparsely populated municipalities, radio is an industry that generates jobs and is vital for the dissemination of mass messages to a wide variety of audiences.

How can radio be harnessed as an avenue to empower young people about migration?

After seeing the high impact that this media has on the culture of our communities, these are some actions to be taken that will allow us to bring the message of regular, orderly and safe migration to a youth who may be victims of crimes associated with irregular migration:

  • Find out about community radio or radio stations in your city: This will help you to know all the spaces that exist within the community and to identify the audiences they are aimed at in order to choose the right channel that connects with young people.
  • Identify young leaders in their communities with communication skills: There is no better way to communicate with youth than through voices they can empathize with and identify with.
  • Create content that connects: Talking about migration does not require a serious or monotonous tone. Try to create short but effective messages with easy to understand language and prioritizing the use of storytelling instead of communicating concepts.
  • Create your own online radio station: The radio has undergone a significant evolution in recent years and proof of this is that the number of Internet radio stations has been increasing, which has led to the democratization of radio. You no longer need big budgets to have your own radio station and broadcast different contents 24 hours a day, this is a good alternative if there are not or do not have access to have space on traditional radio stations.
  • Develop empowering initiatives: Young people possess many talents: dynamism, fast learning and, of course, a lot of creativity. Therefore generating training spaces on radio production issues will help to discover hidden talents and form new opinion leaders, without leaving behind the importance of also empowering them on migration issues, this will allow them to transmit better messages that promote a safe, orderly and regular human mobility and will help them themselves to make better decisions regarding migration.

A success story of such activities is 'Youth on the Airwaves', a workshop on radio and migration that harnesses the energy of young people who are leaders in their communities and shows them the potential of the radio industry as a method of generating livelihoods and making their voices heard.

As a product of this initiative, the young people created their own radio spots to promote a better informed migration, from the ideation of the creative concept, script development, voice-over practice, recording and editing, in all these processes they received the support of both IOM staff and a team of experts in radio production.

A few years ago, former United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon stressed that "radio is very important to make the voice of youth heard, it stimulates the imagination and shortens the distances between people". One more reason to bring the media closer and generate spaces for youth in order to disseminate messages aimed at providing the population with sufficient and verified information that will allow them to make better decisions before embarking on a migratory route.