Bernadette N. Kumar
Director of the Norwegian Centre for Migration and Health (NAKMI)
Interviewed by Sofia Ribeiro, Young Gasteiner
Bernadette N. Kumar was panellist in a workshop entitled “Refugee Health” at the European Health Forum Gastein.
Tell me more about what you do and what were the main achievements you had work-wise over the last year.
We work as an agency with the government, but we also work with the civil society and with health professionals. Our main aim is to generate evidence and knowledge and evidence in order to inform authorities and civil society about migration and health. In addition, we also build capacity at local level by training health professionals, and we try to disseminate the knowledge that we generate to all these levels.
In the last few years, we found that there is a gap when it comes to the knowledge of healthcare professionals dealing with the refugee situation, and there has been a need to generate that knowledge. So, we have been working with different agencies and the society in order to build capacity of health professionals. In addition, what we have found and what I also consider very important is that there is actually no evidence in many areas linked to migration and health. We need to generate the evidence involving the users, and ask the refugees themselves what they would like to see in terms of healthcare services delivery to them when they arrive. We also found out that there is not enough health information for the refugees; they are not aware of how the Norwegian healthcare system works for example. We have identified this need, and civil society has to work on this issue together with the Norwegian authorities. We do need to work systematically on that issue.
We also need to generate evidence in other areas, and this evidence should answer some questions, for example, should we be doing all the screenings and health checks? This evidence would be very important to dispel some of the myths associated with migration: that migrants are carriers of disease, that migrants will spread diseases, that they represent a burden to the health system and that they are unhealthy when they arrive. If we do not generate evidence, then we are not able to dispel these myths.
During your intervention at the workshop “Refugee health”, you have mentioned several times that “Nothing for them without them”. How do you manage participation of migrants in your research projects? What is the strategy that you follow to ensure inclusion?
We are perhaps one of the only organisations that says “Nothing about me without me”. In all our reference groups, we contact the migrants and refugees and we tell them about the projects we are planning and starting. We do not call them during the project when we already have the funding and ask for a “validation stamp”. We ask them whether we are having the right approach, and if we are asking the right questions. We make sure also that we involve migrants and refugees in all our projects, not only the research-oriented ones.
What would be your top-three priorities in refugee health for the next three years?
The top issue at the system level is leadership and prioritization. At the health professional level, it is definitely building competence and capacity, namely to help them to deal with diversity. For the refugees themselves, one of the most important things is to give them the information about healthcare systems and how they function, and to involve them in every single decision.
This interview was conduced at the EHFG Conference 2016 by the Young Gasteiner Sofia Ribeiro