Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Migrant Agricultural Worker's Access to Health Services

Posted By Professor Dr. Zeynep Simsek

Harran University Medical School, Public Health Studies, Sanliurfa, Turkey

“Not seen or heard.” That’s what policymakers, political decision makers, civil and non-profit organizations, scientists and researchers say about seasonal migrant agricultural workers. At the heart of sustainable development, these migrant workers make up 450 million of the world’s 1.1 billion agricultural workforce. Unfortunately more than 60 percent live under the poverty level and 80 percent do not have social security.

They toil under harsh working conditions, such as chemical pesticides, dust, damage, cold and hot weather conditions, without access to proper healthcare. Combined with living in unhealthy living quarters, lack of access to clean water, and unsanitary hygienic conditions, many suffer from enormous health problems. Without question, seasonal migrant workers are one of society’s disadvantaged groups.

A new civil society organization in Turkey, Association of the Protection and Development of the Rights of Seasonal Agricultural Workers, created in November 2008, has been working to determine the main issues of concerns and to mobilize public institutions and other civil society organizations. The Turkish-based Sabanci Foundation Grant Program along with the UN Joint Program to Promote and Protect Human Rights of Women and Girls and the Turkish Philanthropy Funds (TPF) joined hands last year to assist this new organization in Sanliurfa, Turkey. A city located in southeastern Anatolia, Sanliurfa is home to a sizable migrant agricultural workforce. It is estimated that out of its 282,936 population, 44 percent (124,630) are migrant workers.

"Seasonal Migrant Workers Youth Program" which TPF supported through the Sabanci Foundation Grant Program of the UN Joint Program to Promote and Protect Human Rights of Women and Girls aimed to reduce social exclusion of seasonal migrant workers from the rest of society in Sanliurfa through the training of 25 peer leaders in a five-day workshop. The participants in the training were then asked to relay the information they have learned to at least 25 other peers in their communities so as to create a multiplier effect. During the training, the youth worked together to identify problems their families faced and learned about the solutions to address those problems, including their rights to basic health services, social services and educational services.

The organization takes on other projects that aim to contribute to the wellbeing of seasonal migrant workers such as "Seasonal Agriculture Worker's Women's and Girl's Access to Health Rights through Visiting Health Services." It’s a $10,000 project that is working with Sanliurfa’s municipality and its Directorate of Health to provide basic health services to migrant workers.

Among the services being delivered is a mobile visiting healthcare vehicle that includes a mini fridge to keep vaccines in, an examination table, gynecological facilities, and first aid kits. There are four of these vehicles deployed in the Sanliurfa municipality (comprised of 33 villages) with the support of the Sanliurfa city council. This service is not only addressing the migrant worker’s health needs, it is also transforming local government and community engagement on health issues in general.

Directly as a result of the scoping meetings conducted with the Sanliurfa health directorate and local city council, officials have collected vital information about the community’s health needs. Village headmen have been trained on how to obtain clean drinking water and how to reach health care services in the region.

On a larger scale, a budget for healthy living has been allocated and measures to prevent these issues in the future have been taken. Through these measures, Sanliurfa has become a role model for improving the lives of seasonal migrant agricultural workers. Through the municipality’s engagement, there have been solid steps toward better health care and living conditions. It is a wonderful example of community engagement on a critical social issue that previously no one could “see or hear” – but that now everyone can do something about.

Dr. Zeynep Simsek, a faculty member at the Harran University Medical School, specializes in Social Health Sciences. Her research and areas of expertise involves examining societal structures and their effects on the development of children and youth, specifically in Sanliurfa, a city in Eastern Turkey. Dr. Simsek has been working on projects that concern youth health and migratory workers' health and social rights issues.

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