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Reinforcing the health needs of Internally Displaced Persons within the international agenda

Dr Jina Swartz FMedSci is a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and was one of three core members of the advisory panel for our workshop on health and internal displacement. Here she writes about the ongoing, global crisis of internal displacement affecting some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

A greater understanding of the scale and complexity of the problems faced by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is desperately needed to inform clear and urgent international action towards lasting solutions.

IPDs have fewer legal protections than refugees and international action to address their needs has been lacking in momentum, in the context of states’ sovereignty over their internal affairs limiting access or information, as well as barriers of awareness and understanding.  To give a sense of the scale of the crisis, in 2020 more than 45 million people globally were displaced because of conflict and violence but remained still living in their home country – almost double the number of refugees internationally. 

The overwhelming majority of IDPs are found in low- and middle-income countries.  IDPs face multiple, and sometimes very specific, physical and mental health challenges, yet medical and health research on IDPs is limited in comparison with that carried out on refugees, meaning that an evidence-based understanding of the action needed is inadequate.

In 2019, the UN Secretary General established a High-Level Panel to address the global crisis of internal displacement – a very positive step.  In February 2021, to ensure that the High-Level Panel receives input on the health implications of internal displacement, I jointly organised an international interdisciplinary workshop, together with colleagues at the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Internal Displacement Research Programme (IDRP) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to discuss the key health issues facing IDPs.

Our expert workshop gathered insight and evidence to advise on the gaps in policy and research relating specifically to the health needs of IDPs, involving over 30 leading researchers in health research from fifteen countries. We also included policy makers from the United Nations, and humanitarian actors working with IDPs on the ground in conflict contexts. Among the findings, there is a strong focus on ensuring that the heterogeneity of IDPs is accounted for, disease burdens are fully understood, societal and behavioural trends are reflected, and crucially, on the need to adapt approaches to enable efficient and culturally appropriate healthcare access and delivery.

The overwhelming challenges faced by IDPs are deserving of significant international attention and action.  It is our aim that, by making this representation to the UN High-Level Panel and through building a global community, the health needs of Internally Displaced Persons can be identified, understood, with interventions reinforced and solutions instigated within the international agenda.

A panel launch event for this important initiative was held on 19 April 2021. The event:

  • Presented our key empirical findings and policy takeaways for enabling IDP health in conflict contexts
  • Started a discussion of the implications for policy and operations with high-level speakers
  • Launched our innovative global ‘Health and Internal Displacement Network’ (HIDN), with new members welcome.

The policy recommendation document, submitted to the United Nations Secretary General High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement in March 2021, is viewable here. 

The Health and Internal Displacement workshop report from February 2021 can be viewed here.

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