Mauricio Barreto: “It is false to think that migrants are responsible for the dissemination of health problems”


The interview that the doctor and professor Mauricio Barreto will give to Health to the South will be by telephone. He is at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), in the city of Salvador, and the ISAGS offices are in Rio de Janeiro. Both cities, in Brazil. In this case, the technology helped so that no one had to travel to reach the common goal: talk about migrations in the field of health.

Now, what does it mean to migrate? Does anyone who moves from one place to another fits that category? According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is an organization within the United Nations umbrella, , “a migrant is any person who moves or has traveled across an international border or within a country, outside his or her usual place of residence, regardless of: 1) their  legal status; 2) the voluntary or involuntary nature of the displacement; 3) the causes of displacement; or 4) the duration of their stay”.

Before listening to the questions, Barreto, who is a permanent professor of the Postgraduate Program in Collective Health of the UFBA, intervenes making a clarification. “I would like to say before anything that not all migration is forced and although that is something obvious, in these times it does not seem so. Some people migrate by their own option. There are developed countries with policies designed to attract immigrants. Canada has a strong policy of attracting qualified professionals. The United States itself has policies to attract highly qualified people to this day. In addition, England and many European countries attract professionals from various fields, including health. With the Brexit discussion, we are seeing today that England has a serious problem: a large part of its workforce, especially in some areas, such as nursing, is made up of people from other countries. There will be great tension if those people do not continue to compose the professional cadres. This can create serious problems for the English health system”.

Although it is true that there is a percentage of migrants who enter these social groups, we see that currently the great migratory mass has to do with another type of social processes, linked to situations of poverty, exclusion and war.

Of course! In general, migration occurs among people who are excluded, persecuted or because of poverty and crisis, diverse wars, hunger, droughts. In short, anything that destabilizes life and leads people to seek better conditions in another country. These people are sensitive, they will need, often, some kind of support from the receiving country. This has been usual in the history of mankind. So much so, that internationally there are policies for refugees, to protect groups that migrate for religious reasons, war, etc. These are international agreements for the protection of that population.

What happens in these times, when we see that these international and historical agreements are not respected and that rather the opposite happens?

That’s when we see large populations subjected to conditions often inhumane. That aggravates their condition. In many countries you have real prisons, centers where those migrants are left in subhuman conditions. So, that is a factor of aggravation of diverse conditions. In the case of immigrants, especially in places where there is retention of these migrants, their general health conditions worsen. Both physically and mentally.

What are the effects on mental health that migrants suffer?

A profound deterioration of the mental state and diverse depression cases affect migrants. Depression is today one of the major diseases of humanity. Which often leads to an increase in suicides among that social group.

We are currently witnessing the growing myth that the reproduction and dissemination of epidemics is a consequence of migratory processes, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. We are living these days with the outbreak of measles, just to give an example, how do you fight that myth?

That issue of spreading false information is common in several areas, as we are seeing. It always existed and today, with social networks, it is abundant. For example, we have the question of vaccines. There is an immense dissemination of information, which has already become a very serious problem. WHO placed the problem of denial of vaccination on the list of its ten health problems. There is a set of activities that try to show the alleged adverse effects, creating and expanding the number of people who are beginning to reject vaccines worldwide. In the field of migration, it is the same. It is easy to spread ideas about migrants causing diseases. This creates a predisposition against migration.

It is false to think that migrants are responsible for the dissemination of health problems. The evidence does not prove it. You have today a circulation of infectious agents that is important, but that is not linked to migration, it is often linked to tourism, to movements of individuals for various reasons that cause a displacement of infectious agents that are predominant in a certain region of the planet and that can spread to another. For example, the introduction of Zica in Brazil. All the evidence today points to the arrival of the disease was linked to tourism around the World Cup in 2014, when millions of people came to the country. It has nothing to do with any specific migratory movement. On the contrary, migrant populations are people, who in general are healthy. It is very difficult to think that someone, who is sick, is in a healthy condition to migrate. A sick person would only migrate alone in a situation of extreme need.

What is the relevance of the UN Global Migration Pact, signed in December 2018 in Morocco?

The pact had a very large international commitment and there were great discussions up to the point of its signature. That represented great progress in the field of migration policies. Of course, the countries will then define their policies in that sense, but the pact leaves as a precedent the general principle that migrant human populations must receive some kind of international solidarity. It has been done in accordance with the UN human rights charter. Although it was later announced the country’s withdrawal from the pact, Brazil was also a signatory. It was a great international event. I believe that the pact plays an immense role for countries in general, not only for the normal migratory movements, but also for the exceptional ones, as it was the case with Haiti.

Position of the 12 UNASUR countries in relation to the Global Migration Pact in  January 2018:

Adopted the pact: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, Venezuela.

Did not adopt the pact: Chile

Evaluated not adopting the pact: Brazil

Incomplete data in this regard: Guyana

















Interview: Daniel Salman, Coordinador de Comunicación e Información

Design: Janaina Pinto, Redactora de Prensa y Redes Sociales