Part Two of this series of human trafficking for you is about the health consequences of human trafficking. You can look at websites until your eyes melt, but you won’t find very much about this important, yet largely overlooked issue in the scope of trafficking. Human trafficking has largely been viewed as a law enforcement, political, or an immigration issue. Finally, people are waking up to the fact that it is also a health issue. As briefly as I can, I’ll outline the problem, perhaps in ways you have never before considered, for you here.
Consider a population of 27 million people. Consider that the number of trafficked/prostituted women and their children would make up the 29th most populated country in the world. Consider that health, or lack of it never remains isolated in that population. Health is also generational and the wealth or paucity of it is passed on to children, the most vulnerable population of all.
The health needs of these people are immense. Not only are the likely to be in poor health at the time of being trafficked (poverty is a risk factor for trafficking) but the stigma/social isolation/restriction of movement prevents them from accessing good health care in prevention and mitigation of disease. Health issues of these people can be broken down into the following categories: Infectious diseases, non-infectious diseases, mental health, substance abuse, violence, reproductive health, and affects on the children of trafficked people.
Infectious diseased come to mind first when the topic of health arises, and HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) are very important, but how many studies address the long-term consequences of STI such as cervical cancer, or the newborns of prostituted women who contract an infection or birth defect from and untreated mother? Mental health problems are probably contribute the most to morbitity and mortality. Furthermore, if a woman is prostituting herself in order to care for her children [have I told you the story about the woman in E. Asia who prostitutes herself to make enough money to pay for her child’s cerebral palsy health care?], you can talk to her until you are blue in the face about how to protect herself (and her client of course) from contracting HIV, but really she is most concerned about is getting brutalized or murdered within the next week, leaving her children orphaned. She will die from HIV in 5 years or so, but violence or suicidal depression in the next week is something to address NOW. Sometimes the people doing a health promotion project among “sex workers” seems to only address them as vectors of disease, to protect the health of the general population (i.e. the clients) from disease. Sometimes maternal child health projects seem to forget that many women are caught up in a slavery situation that exists just below the surface. I see them as whole people.
Global Health Promise, started by me and Brian Willis in January 2008, was formed to address such problems as these through research, advocacy, and service. There is a paucity of medical literature that hinders the development of informed and effective interventions. Have you heard the axiom, “no data, no problem”? Think about it. If we can’t prove that there is a problem, then we don’t have to do anything about it. Trafficked men, women, and children have been hidden, faceless, and uncounted. It is about time we began to see them as whole people. “The business of public health is to take what is acceptable and make it unacceptable” (Bill Foege). Help us make a difference in the lives of trafficked people.
NOTE: I give an hour+ workshops on this topic, with more data and information, so a short blog hardly does it justice. Stay tuned for more…
Questions? Comments? Please let me know – others are probably wondering about the same things as you are.