Health for all: FCJ Refugee Centre with its partners provides health care support for newcomers to Canada

By Sohaila Khaliqyar,

2 years old Missi receives vaccination at FCJ Refugee Centre primary health clinic. ©FCJ Refugee Centre/2018/Khaliqyar

Toronto, Canada, February, 2018 — Due to conflict, poverty and extreme weather, human rights violations, and persecution for political, religious, ethnic reasons, large numbers of people leave their countries in search of a better life in other countries.

Canada is one of the countries which welcomes a great number of refugees every year.

The refugees and immigrants may face unique challenges in seeking health care support in Canada.

A team of five dedicated doctors at FCJ Refugee Centre is providing primary health care clinic, mental health clinic and self-care to meet the unique health needs of marginalised populations from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Dr. Naheed at FCJ Refugee Centre ©FCJ Refugee Centre/2018/Khaliqyar

Dr. Naheed Dosani is one of the health team workers at the FCJ Refugee Centre. “Over the years as I have done the work at the FCJ Refugee Centre I see refugees are getting sicker and sicker and come with more challenges. People become physically and mentally sick when they immigrate to other countries. Their mental health becomes worse. They get sad, anxious, frustrated, depressed. Said Dr. Naheed: “The clinic is very busy. We see between six and ten people at each of our clinics, which are held two half days per week. We provide primary care with a focus on immigrant’s health and the consequences of immigration around physical health and substance use.”

FCJ Refugee Centre identifies equity and culturally competent strategies and services as critical to improving and maintaining the health of vulnerable populations. The clinic focuses on illness prevention and health promotion.

Health workers at the Centre not only provide health care support for the refugees, but they also actively advocate for the wellbeing of the people on the move.

Focusing on the importance of health for everyone, Dr. Naheed says that “It does not make sense to marginalize people outside of the health care system based on immigration status. We all know this. It is important to vaccinate all the children. If people are healthy they are more likely to contribute to society, so I believe that access to affordable health care for all is a human right.”

It is common for refugees to experience stress, depression and physical health care needs. Additionally as more refugees arrive from countries lacking sophisticated medical care, they are not aware of the health care system in Canada. While entering the country, many refugees have an idealized image of a system that will take care of all their needs, mentally and physically. They are surprised when they learn that they are expected to pay service fees, scheduled appointments, and insurance options that characterize health care in the Canada. Newcomer patients must understand the system in order to express their needs and get the medical care based on the facilities available for them.

Dr. Naheed registers a patient at FCJ Refugee Centre. ©FCJ Refugee Centre/2018/Khaliqyar

FCJ Refugee Centre is a place to go for most of the newcomer patients, to both receive the available treatment and health care support and become aware of how they can proceed with complex health issue by referring them to a community health centre after an initial health screening at FCJ primary health clinic.

“At the FCJ we do have a compassionate fund through the support of the Inner City Health Associates to cover some of the tests patients need. But sometimes they may need three or four tests. As a Doctor I am now stuck in a position where I need to make a judgement on which test to order. When a person has health insurance they can get all the tests they need. That is a real challenge. It is a challenge for clients first and foremost,” said Dr. Naheed

He added “Another challenge is supporting people who are stuck in the immigration system. That is a systemic problem and a burden on people that is so hard for them to deal with. The more stressful the process, the sicker our clients are getting and they become psychologically depressed. We know physical and mental health are not separate. They are intertwined — they are connected, so it is a huge factor in people’s overall health.”