Global Competency Standards to support migrant and refugee communities

Photo: CDC on Pexels
22 December 2021

New global standards, created in consultation with ANU health experts and released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), will provide competency benchmarks to ensure health care workers can better support migrants and refugees seeking medical care.

Professor Christine Phillips, Associate Dean, Health Social Science at The Australian National University (ANU), was the academic lead on the project, working with the Migration Council of Australia, which auspices the Australian Migrant and Refugee Health Partnership.  Dr Nyoman Sutarsa, Lecturer at the ANU Medical School served as an advisor on the project.

“271 million people (3.5% of the world’s population) – live outside the country they were born in, and many have difficulty accessing the health care they need.  They may face physical and mental health issues associated with dangers in the country they left, or the dangers they faced in transit, or the kinds of work or living conditions they face in the new country, ” Professor Phillips said.

As a result of regional instability, climate change, and global labour market flows, the number of migrants and refugees continues to grow. Eighty-two million people have been forcibly displaced due to violence or environmental catastrophe. 

Australia has the highest proportionate migrant population in the world. Therefore, most Australian doctors look after people from a migrant background every day. As it has internationally, the COVID pandemic in Australia has had disproportionate impacts upon people from migrant backgrounds, with factors such as insecure employment and lack of access to social security benefits coming into play.    

Until now, there has been no set of competencies to guide training and set standards for health providers who work with migrants and refugees. 

Dr Phillips led the development of a curriculum designed to offer educational choices for health worker training schools and universities and for continuing professional development for practising health workers to meet the competencies.

This work expands on the first ever competencies in this area, designed by the Migration and Refugee Health Partnership, which Professor Phillips helped design. The ANU Medical School has already incorporated the competencies into their Curriculum, and is proud to be a pioneer in this area. 

WHO encourages all countries to build these competencies into health worker training.