Migrants in tsunami-hit Thai regions need more access to health services, says UN study

31 August 2005

Migrants living in areas affected by last year's tsunami need better access to maternal and child health services, family planning and information on preventing HIV infection, according to a United Nations-sponsored study.

In communities of people from Myanmar in Phang-nga and Ranong provinces, one in four mothers delivers without a skilled birth attendant, 55 per cent of all infants are not receiving immunization, only half of all married women are using contraception, and half the adults surveyed have incorrect knowledge about how HIV is spread. One-third of the unmarried migrant men pay for sex without consistently using condoms, a UN Population Fund (UNFPA) survey showed.

The survey of 700 migrants was conducted in June by Mahidol University’s Institute for Population and Social Research with funding from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UNFPA.

UNFPA said the findings confirm the need for mobile health clinics and health education campaigns such as those being run in both migrant and Thai communities in Krabi, Phang-nga, Phuket and Ranong by the World Vision Foundation of Thailand and provincial public health offices with UNFPA support. World Vision employs Burmese-speaking medical staff to serve migrants and is training a cadre of health volunteers to do community outreach.

Migrant workers play essential roles in the region’s fishing and construction industries and on rubber plantations. Several migrant communities were hit hard by the 26 December tsunami. While many migrants returned to Myanmar immediately after the disaster, there has since been a steady influx of new workers.

Fewer than half the migrants studied were legally registered, and therefore entitled to the same affordable universal health care coverage as Thai citizens. Those not registered reportedly avoid public clinics and hospitals due to the cost and fear of deportation. Health workers say this is an important problem, as mobile clinics must refer seriously ill patients to hospitals.

The Fund is also supporting an effort by the Thai Red Cross AIDS Research Centre to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections in the affected areas, by promoting safer sexual behaviours and social marketing of condoms, it added.

 

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