(To be checked against delivery)
Bratislava, 22 November 2007
I am truly delighted to have the opportunity to welcome you to the capital of the Slovak Republic. My welcome is especially cordial as this is historically the first occasion on which the Ministry of Health of the Slovak Republic has been able to organize a conference of European Ministers of Health. It is a large commitment for us and also a great honour. The main title of our conference “People on the move” has several meanings and it is, at one and the same time, both a challenge and a wish… It is also the reason why we are meeting here in Bratislava.
The issue of migration resonates this year in the agenda of the Member States of the Council of Europe even more than in the past and its content classifies it among the key challenges to civilisation. During its presidency of the European Union, Portugal included this area among its priorities: Two months ago an international conference "Better Health for all in an inclusive society” was held in Lisbon and the conclusions of the conference could represent a landmark in the resolution of this issue. The aim of our conference here is to follow up on the conclusions of the Lisbon meeting and try to further resolve the issues of migration, health and human rights in a global context. According to UN data, there are approximately 200 million people in the world falling within the category of foreign migrants. Up to 60% of these persons live in the developed countries of the world, while around a fifth of them live in the member states of the European Union.
The Slovak Republic adopted the Principles of Migration policy and the issue of migration has been a current issue here from the start of the nineteen-nineties. The opening of the borders in 1989 led to the Slovak Republic, previously an “emigration” country, becoming a migration country. For example, in Slovakia only last year we registered 7,620 illegal migrants. In particular, in the last five years, migration to and through Slovakia has become more intensive and this trend carries new tasks for the public health system. The provision of healthcare to migrants is within the extent determined by international treaties and legal regulations; asylum seekers are provided healthcare within the terms of the Act on Asylum. In accordance with the provisions of the Act on Asylum, healthcare will be provided to minors seeking asylum who are the victims of abuse, neglect, exploitation, torture, cruelty, or inhuman and degrading treatment, or who suffer from the consequences of a military conflict.
In the course of one year (up to October 31st 2007) we registered more than 2,400 asylum applicants in Slovakia, mostly from Pakistan, India and the Russian Federation. It generally accepted that there is an increased danger of infectious diseases for migrants in detention centres and asylum camps. If the migrants come from regions where there is a risk of spreading transmitted diseases, they are required to undergo a medical examination, including laboratory diagnostics and the taking of biological material. A contractual doctor will ensure the eventual quarantine, preventative vaccination of children and adults, disinfection and coordination of all activities with the authorities of the public health system. It is natural that migrants bring with them their own hygiene issues influenced by many factors, while some diseases as TBC, hepatitis and respiratory diseases are related to poverty, unsuitable living conditions and alimentation habits. This is why we resolve the issue of migrants in a complex way – by a multi-resort cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and the Family, Ministry of Economics and the Ministry of the Environment and Regional Development.
With regard to payments for healthcare provided to foreigners who are insured persons from EU countries, since 1 May 2004 the payments have been made in accordance with Council Regulation (EEC) No 1408/71. The Council Regulation dated January 2003 establishing minimum standards of healthcare provided to migrants coming to the territory of a Member State of the European Union is also binding on Slovakia. Our legislation clearly stipulates that the right to the provision of healthcare is guaranteed equally to everybody. Any discrimination as a result of gender, religion or creed, marital status and civil status, colour of skin, language, political or other beliefs, involvement in any union activity on a national or social basis, health handicap, age, property, descent, or any other status is forbidden.
The need for constant education is also a practical demand so the Ministry of Health, in cooperation with the Slovak Health University, effects systematic education for health workers directed towards the prevention of all forms of discrimination, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and other manifestations of intolerance. I can assure you that Slovakia wishes to play an active part in the creation and realisation of projects beneficial to the issue of migration and we are ready to assume our share of responsibility for the measures adopted in the area of public health.
The member states of the Council of Europe will adopt coordinated and scientifically endorsed measures in the area of health policy. Naturally, these tasks are ever more demanding, especially when taking into consideration the objectively limited resources that can be allocated for the assurance of healthcare in any given country. I believe that the conference will bring new initiatives in this area also.
Health is the most personal property of every one of us and it is also the centre of interest of the whole of society - it even outreaches its boundaries. With regard to the issue of migration, it is without doubt also the subject of intense reflection for all of us, accompanying the feeling of responsibility for future development. Our unity in this sense will be important and Slovakia is ready to support it. Because health shares an equal value, whether from the perspective of Slovakia, the European Union or the whole world, and we all know well that its value cannot be quantified in financial terms.
Dear Mr. General Secretary, Mr. Prime Minister, and Ladies and Gentlemen
Allow me to wish this conference successful progress and a pleasant and creative atmosphere, the exceptionality of which will carry over to the coming days. I believe this exceptional meeting will be the occasion for making new contacts, for creative discussions and for acquiring new knowledge.
Thank you for your attention.