Why should I care about refugee health?

All resettled refugees and many refugee claimants will have the opportunity to become permanent residents and eventually citizens of Canada. It is in the best interest of democracy and the economy to ensure that these individuals have the opportunity to become healthy as soon as possible. Just like everyone else, the sooner they can access good treatment, the better the outcome – and the cheaper it is for the system!

But there is obviously more to refugee health than this. Refugees have often been through unimaginable horror – violence and persecution that speaks to the worst in humanity. These individuals are legally requesting Canada’s protection, or Canada has already agreed to protect them. As citizens and residents, we have an opportunity – some would say a duty – to help improve the lives of the least fortunate in our society. Refugees certainly fall into this category.


What screening tests are done for refugees?

Refugees, once they have permanent status in Canada, undergo the same screening tests as Canadian-born individuals, including the standard tests for cancer and chronic disease that everyone should go through.They are also screened for specific health concerns, including infectious illnesses. Their need for vaccinations is evaluated and they are ‘caught up’ to the Canadian standard of immunization. Mental health concerns are also discussed and they are given treatment where appropriate.


I am a Canadian-born citizen without a family doctor – why can’t I be a patient at the clinic?

Sanctuary Refugee Health Centre is set up to offer specialized services to refugees. They have specific needs in health care, which include checking for illnesses that are uncommon in Canadians, dealing with past trauma, and monitoring for mental health disorders and distress. They also require assistance with health education and settlement. Because of the differences in their care, a centre to coordinate their health services is very beneficial. Many refugees in Kitchener are not currently receiving organized health care – they report being denied care by community family doctors, walk-in clinics, and even hospitals, leaving them with few options.

To be sure, there is a general shortage of family doctors and health services in the Kitchener-Waterloo region. Our hope is to divert refugees from clinics without the expertise or resources to care for them, freeing up time and patient roster room from other community GPs. By taking on patients that other GPs struggle to treat effectively, we hope that those GPs will be able to open up spots to others in the community. This is an idea that has worked well in other centres (like Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halifax, to name a few).

Our policy is no different from GPs who focus their practice on the elderly, on athletes, on women’s health, or on children. These specialized providers help to build capacity within the health care system while offering a valuable service, and more patients are seen by health care providers who can offer high quality of care to them.


How can I help the clinic?

We are always looking for support from the community! Because of our firm commitment to never charge a refugee for care, we do not generate as much income, and our expenses (like interpretation) are higher than in a general practice clinic. At this time, we are in need of donations of various kinds – office supplies, medical equipment, and monetary donations. We do occasionally have opportunities for volunteering at the clinic – contact us if you are interested. If you are part of an organization involved in similar work, we’d love to add your link to our website. And finally, if you like what we do, we would love to hear from you!