‘Moving the Fence: Migrants, COVID and New Obstacles to Healthcare’ by Tullio Prestileo

With response from Jess Potter

Translations from Jennifer Rieck



In step with the shifting terrain of EU politics, the past two years have seen the strengthening of existing barriers to migration even as the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to erect new barricades to migratory journeys. Yet migratory movements are inevitable. Notwithstanding the above obstacles, Sicily has received over 10,000 new arrivals between January and April 2021. Clearly, whether one likes it or not, we must reckon with this reality. We cannot find ourselves in a position where we must welcome women, men and children who only ask for a better life, completely unprepared. On April 24 of this year, an entirely preventable and avoidable massacre involving the death of 130 migrants occurred in the midst of an ineffectual rescue operation. We must undertake all those measures necessary to safeguard life, beginning with the patrol and coast guard system in the Sicilian canal. The Reception System too must find solutions that are more effective. It is not enough to guarantee the basic needs of individuals. Without initiating a process of integration and dialogue, the very possibility of a multi-ethnic and democratic way of life is foreclosed.

Education, health and work can and must form the starting point for a true politics of cohabitation. My experience as a doctor underscores the importance of not stigmatizing patients, their care or the management of disease. Article 32 of the Italian Constitution guarantees the right to health and the right to be treated to all those present on Italian territory. This methodological model recognizes all patients without prejudice or difference and serves as an injunction to simply follow the letter of the Law and Constitution. In my experience, safeguarding the health of everyone represents one of the first, necessary steps towards true integration. As the World Health Organization has noted for decades, safeguarding the health of all must be coupled with the capacity for education and work if global aspirations to “Good Health and Wellbeing” are to be realized.

About the speakers

Tullio Prestileo is a medical doctor and infectious diseases specialist who has 30 years’ experience in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, in particular HIV. Over the past 20 years, he has been involved in the reception, care and treatment of migrants. His focus has been on the management and identification of the most commonly observed infections in migrant populations: HIV, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV), as well as Tropical diseases (in particular parasite infections). He has established a citizen’s network initiative (I.T.a.C.A.) to provide a multidisciplinary approach to healthcare, as well as information on the right to health and the protection of other rights. He is president of the National Association for the Fight against AIDS (ANLAIDS), Sicily and President of the StopTB Association, Sicily. He is also a member of the National Focal Point at the Instituto Superiore di Sanità (Rome). He is currently the Medical Director of the Infectious Diseases Clinic and Head of the Migrant Assistance Office at the Civic Hospital-Benefratelli in Palermo, Sicily.

Jess Potter is a Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, London. Her MRC-funded PhD explored access to healthcare for migrants with TB in the UK. Alongside her research, Jess campaigns with a number of grass roots organisations to improve healthcare access for migrants in the UK. She has spoken about these issues on radio and television and written in the national press. She was presented with the Champion Award at the Women on the Move Awards in 2019 for her work on the #PatientsNotPassports campaign.