- About Us
- Our Work
- Work With MSF
- Public Events
- Press Room
MSF in Belgium, 2006
All articles on Belgium »
In Belgium, one of the only rights granted by law to undocumented migrants is the right to access healthcare. Sadly, in practice this is incredibly difficult, mostly because of red tape and patients’ fear of saying who they are and where they live — required information in order to obtain treatment.
MSF has responded by providing healthcare to these people facing obstacles to health services in the regular system. In 2005, MSF conducted 140 medical and psychosocial consultations in clinics in Brussels and Antwerp. Seventy-four percent of these were undocumented migrants, whilst most of the others were asylum seekers waiting for a decision on their applications.
In addition to offering treatment, MSF strives to redirect patients toward the institutions that should take care of them, getting local and national authorities and welfare agencies to face up to their responsibilities and ensure care for the most vulnerable groups, care they are entitled to by law.
In July 2005, lobbying efforts reached a promising conclusion when MSF was able to stop its medical consultations in Liège after reaching an agreement with the local welfare agency. The agreement included the creation of a Relais Santé, aimed at guiding the patients through the administrative maze and at facilitating contacts with service providers and agencies in charge of paying the bills. While this is a major achievement, more structural changes are needed to facilitate easier access.
Handing-over of HIV testing activities
For the last 15 years, MSF’s Elisa center has provided free and anonymous HIV testing in Brussels. On Jan. 1, 2006, after a huge media and lobby push, this service was finally taken over by the authorities and is now available in Brussels and Antwerp. Until then, Belgium was one of the only countries in Europe not offering free and anonymous HIV testing, despite recommendations from the World Health Organization.
The data collected by MSF during the project proves that vulnerable groups are more likely to come and get tested if it is both anonymous and free: in its last year of activity, 2000 tests were undertaken at the Elisa center, with 1.6 percent of people testing positive for HIV.
MSF has worked in Belgium since 1987.