Global Health Council, Inc.

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Seventy-second World Health Assembly (A72/1)
Agenda Item: 
12.4 Promoting the health of refugees and migrants

Global Health Council, supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, welcomes the draft global action plan, 2019-2023. The draft plan recognizes that many refugees and migrants lack access to health care services and asserts health as an essential component of refugee assistance. Importantly, it acknowledges that unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable and need specific services and care. Children, whether unaccompanied or accompanied, should receive timely, comprehensive medical care that is culturally and linguistically sensitive by medical providers trained to care for children.

Thousands of migrant children seeking safe haven in the U.S. have been forcibly separated from their parents since 2017. Studies overwhelmingly demonstrate the irreparable harm caused by breaking up families. Separated children can face physical symptoms like headaches and stomach pain, changes in body functions like eating, sleeping, and toileting, behavior problems like anger, irritability and aggression, and difficulty with learning and memory. Prolonged exposure to highly stressful situations — known as toxic stress — can disrupt a child's brain architecture and affect his or her short- and long-term health. A parent or a known caregiver's role is to mitigate these dangers. When robbed of that buffer, children are susceptible to a variety of adverse health impacts including learning deficits and chronic conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even heart disease.

For priority one and priority three in the draft global action plan to be realized, governments should prohibit the separation of children from their families (except in very limited circumstances such as abuse or neglect at the hands of the parent). Children fleeing armed conflict should be allowed to petition for asylum and should be screened for evidence of human trafficking.