Refugees need better access to healthcare, groups say

Nova Scotians who advocate for better treatment of refugees say people need better health care when they arrive.

Canadian health-care system can be difficult to navigate for refugees

Nova Scotians who advocate for better treatment of refugees say people need better health care when they arrive in Canada.

Tim Holland is a Truro doctor who is trying to get government support for clinic space for refugees.
"The health needs of this population are distinctly different from that of the regular Canadian population," said Holland.

"There’s of course the obvious issues that would come up with the move from a country where they’ve been persecuted, as well as time spent in refugee health camps. But, as well, there can be unmet needs such as diabetes screening and blood pressure screening." 

Holland says that without medical services for refugees, the rest of the system clogs when people go to emergency rooms for basic health care services. 

Catherine Bibimbuyamba arrived in Nova Scotia as a refugee a few months ago. Before that, she lived in a refugee camp in Uganda for 10 years after fleeing the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.

She says she found it difficult to navigate the health-care system in Canada.

“You don't know how the hospital works. You don't know where to start from,” she said.

She was referred to a makeshift clinic at Nova Scotia's Immigrant Settlement and Integration Services.

Gerry Mills, director of operations at ISIS, says many refugees are in the same situation as Bibimbuyamba.

Since there are no specific services for refugees, Mills’ organization has had to get creative. She said her organization has resorted to putting paper over the windows of an office to give patients privacy.  

Holland said the needs are very basic.

“We just need a space to be paid for to be able to see these patients,” he said.

ISIS and a handful of other groups submitted a business plan proposal in 2012 to the Capital District Health Authority and the Department of Health and Wellness, asking for money to expand refugee health services.

The groups received notice in 2013 that even though Capital Health was supportive of the proposal, the district didn't have the funds. The Department of Health and Wellness said it couldn't put up the cash.

The groups were asking for about $350,000 in funding over three years.

Between 200 and 250 refugees come to Halifax each year, say Mills and Holland.