Each year, thousands of immigrants coming to the United States have to adjust to a foreign culture, a new language, and learn to navigate a new health system. In addition, migration often presents risks to physical and mental health that need to be addressed within the context of the U.S. health system. While the topic of migration and health has gained increasing interest in the past decade, there are serious limitations in terms of the amount and quality of evidence available to properly assess and manage migration flows and migrants'complex health issues, including problems related to access and utilization of health services. There is disagreement about the fundamental nature of migration, lack of high quality data, and differences in definitions and descriptions of the migrant and mobile populations. Since 2006, the Health Initiative of the Americas (HIA), an organization within the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley, along with collaborating institutions such as the University of California, Center of Expertise on Migration and Health, has held an annual four-day conference: the Summer Institute on Migration and Global Health (SIMGH). This conference offers researchers, faculty, graduate students, community organizations and health professionals, working with migrant communities around the world, an opportunity to explore the unique health issues of mobile populations, learn about effective methodologies to use with this specific population, and build partnerships. Experts from different organizations give presentations on the relationship between migration and global health from the perspectives of public health, public policy, and social sciences. The structure of the four-day conference is a combination of lectures and workshops taught by highly recognized international experts in the field of migration and health, as well as a site visit to provide a firsthand perspective on the services provided to migrants in the U.S.
The specific aims of the SIMGH are: 1) Develop partnerships among researchers, junior faculty, students, health professionals and other stakeholders, working on migration and health issues. 2) Share existing and expand new methodologies to address opportunities and challenges on research and public health practices of mobile populations. 3) Engage in training and practical education of junior researchers on topics related to migration and global health. For this purpose, the SIMGH dedicates a session where junior researchers have the opportunity to present their ongoing research and receive feedback from different experts and peers. Final papers are collected and published in a peer reviewed journal. For the last eight years the SIMGH has received positive feedback from all participants and those involved, including the invited speakers. The SIMGH fosters national and international collaboration in migrant health research and service provision and through these efforts, strives to improve the health and wellbeing of migrant populations.
Often the migratory process involves risks, and many migrants have preexisting health problems that are exacerbated by the socio-economic and political determinants of health, including barriers to access and use of health care services, making them a particularly vulnerable population. Therefore, it is important for service providers, students, researchers, and policy makers to have a better understanding and receive targeted training on how to address the specific health issues that affect this population. This will have a positive impact on public health at a local, national and global level.