Kuwait Community

30 October 2023

Healthcare For Migrant Workers in Kuwait

By Caleb Sanders


Migrant workers in Kuwait are overworked, underpaid, systematically abused by the government and culture and put in unsafe working conditions. These are only a few examples of how migrant workers are mistreated and put on the line daily in Kuwait. Not surprisingly, but unfortunately, They are also very often denied or prevented from accessing healthcare, even when they need it the most. Kuwait’s lack of healthcare cannot excuse it because they have top quality and the most up-to-date healthcare technology and doctors. The problems have more to do with the fact that systems in general in Kuwait are set up to prioritize citizens and do not recognize migrant workers as equal human beings. In this blog, I will discuss what issues are underlying migrant workers’ lack of access to healthcare and how this affects the population. Any data I reference in this post was collected by us at Kuwait Aid Network in a survey for a VitalSigns project. The survey was conducted between May and July 2023 and targeted low-income Migrant workers in Kuwait. There were a total of 1101 participants in this survey.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, everybody in Kuwait, Especially migrant workers who live in crowded, small rooms and houses, needed access to healthcare more than ever. The death rate for Kuwaiti nationals during COVID-19 increased by 30%; however, populating over half of the country, migrant workers faced a death rate increase of 70%. This goes to show how low-priority migrant workers’ health is. Also, during the pandemic, migrant workers reported it to be 20% more difficult on average to receive healthcare. These two statistics are linked, concluding that by not having proper systems in place to protect over half of the population, the Kuwaiti government let 40% more deaths occur than the amount that would have happened if low-income migrant workers were given equal opportunities to access healthcare. 

Out of the survey of 1100 low-income migrant workers, the number one reported reason for failing to receive healthcare, other than financial reasons, was a lack of identification and government documentation. 51% of the respondents said they were refused because they had no physical identification. 24% said it was because they had no virtual identification, and 29% said it was because they had no bank card. This is not an issue of the migrant workers losing their documentation or doing anything wrong, for that matter, but instead an issue with the massive amounts of workers coming in and out of the country without being properly processed. Some workers are never documented in the first place, giving them even fewer rights in the country than the already inhumane amount given to them when they are documented. Some have theirs taken by their employers so that they can have more control over them. This is a cultural issue more than a governmental one. However, more services should be provided by the government to prevent this abusive treatment, like hotlines, random checks, higher standards for employment agencies and constant communication with the employment agencies.

Another non-financial barrier to healthcare that migrant workers in Kuwait face is discrimination. This barrier is more of a personal bias of healthcare professionals than a governmental one. The only discrimination migrant workers face from the Kuwaiti government itself is usually towards domestic workers who are predominantly Filipino. This is evident even in their laws, which do not offer nearly as many rights as any other type of worker. The discrimination toward migrant workers from healthcare professionals is evident in the survey results. Of the entire 1100 migrant workers surveyed, 47% of them said they faced discrimination while accessing or attempting to access healthcare. This is an alarming number of people facing discrimination in general, let alone inside a healthcare facility. Of the 47% discriminated against, 67% experienced negative attitudes from healthcare professionals, 37% were subjected to inappropriate language by healthcare professionals, and 25% were entirely denied service. In some circumstances, this could cost somebody’s life. The migrant workers in this situation must feel quite helpless but still keep working and suffering through the pain of their untreated illness as they must feed their families back home. 

The last barrier studied in this survey was the financial barrier that migrant workers face when accessing healthcare in Kuwait. The results from this survey do not include emergency healthcare, as that is free in Kuwait for everybody. 13% of the respondents say they can never afford healthcare. 17% of the respondents say that they can rarely afford healthcare. 36% say they can sometimes afford healthcare, and 31% say they can often or always afford it. 59% of respondents said they reduced spending on their essential needs to afford healthcare. The number of migrant workers not receiving healthcare clearly reflects the higher death rate. They can have life-saving treatment and care in emergency rooms but have much less chance of ever being able to afford the care they need to sustain a healthy lifestyle. This is due to financial and other factors we have already gone over. 

This brings me to my next point, which is how migrant workers live without nearly as much access to healthcare as they should and that other people in the country do have. Many migrant workers face daily pain and suffering because they cannot receive treatment for their health issues. They are still expected to work long shifts in the heat without ample food and water, so they self-medicate with over-the-counter products. Over 64% of the respondents reported self-medicating. The most commonly used is panadol, a brand name for acetaminophen. This drug can cause liver failure and has in many cases. 

In conclusion, the barriers to healthcare in Kuwait that migrant workers face play a large role in the general oppression of the population. The issues are not black and white but all entangled. Many different reasons prevent migrant workers from accessing healthcare. This is not an easy injustice to correct, but it is worthwhile. Start at the more minor issues and work up to the main ones, like we do here at KAN.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Canada Kuwait Aid Network.”

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