Well being staff are in a singular place to assist establish human trafficking

  1. Peter Geller, impartial marketing consultant1,
  2. Laura T Murphy, professor of human rights and modern slavery2,
  3. Hanni Stoklosa, chief medical officer and co-founder3,
  4. Jozef Bartovic, regional technical officer4,
  5. Hedinn Halldorsson, communications officer4,
  6. Marie Wolf, communications officer4,
  7. Isabel Yordi Aguirre, senior adviser4 5

  1. 1Unbiased marketing consultant

  2. 2Sheffield Hallam College

  3. 3HEAL Trafficking, Brigham and Ladies’s Hospital, Harvard Medical Faculty

  4. 4WHO Regional Workplace for Europe

  5. 5WHO European Workplace for Investing for Well being and Growth

Human trafficking is a profitable crime and a severe human rights violation. Conflicts improve the variety of individuals exploited in trafficking inside and out of doors crises areas. The warfare in Ukraine is prone to have significantly heightened the chance of trafficking for 1000’s of weak individuals, in response to the newest world report on trafficking in individuals printed by the United Nations Workplace on Medicine and Crime in January 2023.1

Towards this backdrop, a scoping evaluate from the WHO Regional Workplace for Europe2 requires substantial funding to extend well being programs’ capacities and assist sensitise well being staff to trafficking. Well being programs and well being staff are in some ways uniquely located to establish, deal with, and shield trafficked individuals and people liable to being trafficked.

Entrance line well being staff are sometimes the one public sector staff to satisfy trafficked individuals throughout their ordeal. Knowledge on what number of trafficked individuals stay unidentified when searching for well being companies is missing for the WHO European Area, however a research from the US discovered that it’s greater than half.3

A secure area

The first targets of figuring out trafficked individuals are to supply high quality care, empowerment, and a secure area—not disclosure. Survivors cite well being staff’ lack of expertise as a barrier to attaining these goals, in addition to the disgrace that trafficked people typically really feel and their mistrust in well being programs.4

Shandra Woworuntu, chair of the Worldwide Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (Group for Safety and Cooperation in Europe-Workplace for Democratic Establishments and Human Rights), described to us the significance of well being staff being non-judgmental of their therapy of people that have been trafficked, affording them dignity and respect. She shared a state of affairs wherein she felt let down after she opened as much as well being staff about her dire state of affairs. She explains how nurses had been speaking about her behind a curtain and the way a psychiatrist laughed and instructed her that she wasn’t telling the reality and questioned her expertise.

Minority and marginalised populations, together with girls trafficked for sexual exploitation, individuals who establish as LGBTQIA+, ethnic minorities, and migrants could face a number of discriminations from well being suppliers based mostly on their identities.

In response to those obstacles, we have to improve well being professionals’ coaching in survivor centred, trauma knowledgeable care. Docs ought to recognise biases, keep vigilant, and act once they see sufferers weak to trafficking—particularly in the event that they see indicators that point out the particular person is at excessive threat. The present lack of coaching leaves well being programs unprepared to reply to trafficking. However having standardised protocols to use when indicators are recognised may also help well being staff to establish it and supply acceptable care.5

“There isn’t a color, there isn’t a nation of origin that’s not a potential trafficked particular person,” says Charlotte Møller, senior marketing consultant at Aarhus College Hospital in Denmark, who has handled trafficked people for years.6

As an alternative of common screening of all sufferers, well being programs ought to contemplate structured interview approaches. Well being staff have to recognise that many individuals trapped in trafficking expertise trauma. All healthcare ought to subsequently be trauma knowledgeable, selling the values of autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, and justice, and be centred round affected person wants.

Many WHO member states within the WHO European Area have but to implement nationwide referral mechanisms that create state huge protocols for human trafficking, guaranteeing trafficked people obtain care. Such mechanisms needs to be a part of multi-sector healthcare protocols particularly designed to be trauma knowledgeable.

Common and inexpensive entry to healthcare

Individuals who have been trafficked want common, inexpensive entry to healthcare—no matter their standing or assets. Structural obstacles to healthcare for trafficked people embrace understaffing and underfinancing. Entry to inexpensive healthcare, together with psychological and dental care, mitigates the chance of re-trafficking by lowering out-of-pocket healthcare bills that result in debt and impoverishment, and is vital for trafficking survivors’ long run wellbeing.7

Well being programs’ position in stopping trafficking

Along with eradicating obstacles to and offering high quality healthcare, public well being responses ought to assist the prevention of trafficking. This implies closing off avenues into trafficking by tackling the social determinants of well being that place individuals at larger threat, reminiscent of racism, gender inequalities, and gender based mostly discrimination, poverty, meals insecurity, homelessness, socioeconomic marginalisation, compelled migration, lack of entry to healthcare, financial and social rights, and insufficient schooling.

Human trafficking is a severe human rights violation that can’t be ignored. Trafficking requires a multisectoral response. No nation or sector can do it alone, however well being programs can play a significant position.

If we step up and grasp the distinctive alternative now we have—on the intersection of well being and human trafficking—our well being programs and healthcare staff might play a key position in figuring out, treating, and defending trafficked individuals.


  • Competing pursuits: HS is the chief medical officer of HEAL Trafficking. HEAL Trafficking presently receives human trafficking grants for analysis from the US State Division, US Division of Well being and Human Providers, and Workplace of Victims of Crime. None additional declared.

  • Provenance and peer evaluate: not commissioned, not externally peer reviewed.


  1. Gachanja N, Ruth J, Williams P, et al. Justice Coverage Information. Delta 8.7 Coverage Guides. United Nations College. 2021.