Providing Healthcare to Those Who Do Not Always Fall Under the Radar: Global Clinic in Helsinki, Finland

One of the hubs that was established in Helsinki, Finland, within the ImmuHubs project is located in Global Clinic, or the “clinic for undocumented migrants” – as it is commonly referred to. Prior to 2023, adult undocumented migrants in Finland were only granted emergency healthcare. In this setup, it was crucial to establish a clinic where certain healthcare measures could be provided to those who could not access them otherwise. Since the 1st of January 2023, as confined in a new law, undocumented migrant individuals residing in Finland ” are eligible to access necessary healthcare. 

Despite this change in the law, Global Clinic continues to operate and offer services to individuals, such as assessment of the need for treatment, group health counseling activities, sexual healthcare, and psychological support for those who have experienced gender-based violence or trauma. Global Clinic has a diverse group of professionals among its volunteers, coming from various backgrounds: nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, doctors, dentists, and psychologists who provide specific health treatments. In addition, non-healthcare professional volunteers work at the reception of the clinic. In total, there are approximately forty volunteers affiliated with the clinic. In addition to providing direct services to clients, the volunteers of Global Clinic also engage in valuable advocacy work and conduct trainings about the issues and challenges of undocumented migrants. These trainings are targeted, for example, at healthcare professionals, students, and others who work with migrant populations.  Migrants in general, and undocumented migrants in particular, face several barriers in accessing health services in their countries of destination. This means that both individuals and health service providers need to overcome several challenges. 

According to two volunteers of Global Clinic who are also involved in the ImmuHubs project in Finland, Pipsa Jääskeläinen and Taru Miller, the three most common health problems at the clinic in 2022 were related to diseases of the digestive organs, diseases of the musculoskeletal system, and mental health challenges. Many clients needed new prescriptions, support with their pregnancies, or contraceptives. As Miller and Jääskeläinen described, the reasons why people attend the clinic vary a lot: often, behind their somatic symptoms there lie multiple challenges. This means that it is crucial for these individuals to be treated in an environment where there is no rush and where they can surely trust the services they receive from trustworthy providers.

 As previously described in the Innovative Immunisation Hubs Podcast Series’ episode focusing on Global Clinic, the clinic’s clients primarily speak Romanian, Bulgarian, and Arabic as their mother tongues. Lacking the skills in these languages, the volunteers of the clinic must use interpreters to support them in providing care. However, even with qualified interpreters, misunderstandings may occur. Obstacles arising from a lack of cultural awareness or knowledge of healthcare, diseases, and treatments can heavily affect these individuals. For example, some clients may mistakenly believe that viral infections can be treated with antibiotics. Additionally, many of the clinic’s clients lack a permanent address or even a phone, making contact and  follow-ups rather challenging. As Miller concludes, “The knowledge of the Global Clinic’s clients about these themes is almost non-existing and should be increased before starting to provide the vaccines. This information should be provided in the client’s mother language. Many people hold negative beliefs and misconceptions about vaccinations. Also, most of these individuals do not know how to write and read, which should be taken into consideration in advance.”

Numerous studies have reflected on the difficulties migrant populations encounter after their migration globally. It is clear, that undocumented migrants in Finland are also affected by these difficulties and are marginalized within Finnish society. 

“Knowledge about vaccine-preventable infectious diseases should be increased among these individuals, as we have seen that it is almost non-existent. Therefore, if it were possible to provide vaccines in this project, it would increase the immunization rate of this population. If there are results from this project, it will raise awareness about the situation of undocumented migrants in Finland.”

We hope, therefore, that with the knowledge we inquire through the operations of the ImmuHubs project in Finland, we will be able to contribute to increasing the knowledge and well-being of the undocumented migrant populations in Finland in the near future.