Back in 2012, the federal government in Canada passed a bill that would cut refugee healthcare funding by a quarter, saving around $20 million annually. On January 27, 2017, president Donald Trump issued an executive order that would ban the immigration of refugees and citizens in seven predominantly Muslim countries. Yet in a world that is becoming increasingly more divided—pushing away vs. reaching out to refugees with open arms—one particular action may have just tipped the scales in favour of humanitarian and social justice.
Recently, the Canadian federal government announced that it would restore refugee healthcare benefits to pre-2012 levels. Although the effects of better healthcare have yet to be seen on a macro level, the following passage is a testimony to the efficiency of the healthcare system, and if anything, offers a glimpse of hope.
The anecdote that follows is from a third-year medical student:
I have the privilege of working at a community health centre affiliated with McMaster University which is one of the centres dealing with refugee health. The family doctor I work with primarily deals with Syrian refugees, due to the fact that he speaks Arabic. When the government first accepts refugees they screen them for TB. When they arrive in Canada, they get put into a group home (the one in Hamilton is called Wesley Urban Ministries). Ideally, within two days of arriving in Canada, we visit the refugees at their group home and interview them. When I walk in, I immediately notice the stark contrast between this and the normal hospital setting. There’s a seven-year-old girl who’s missing a leg from a bomb explosion, and another man with fungal skin infections everywhere. We give them a head-to-toe assessment: taking their height, weight, blood pressure; accessing their history on previous immunizations and medications; auscultating their heart and lungs; and screening them for diseases such as lice and fungal skin lesions. After our visit, Wesley Urban Ministries arranges the family to see a dentist and an optometrist. Considering the amount of refuges that have cavities, I’m really impressed by this aspect of their healthcare. When we get the patients’ blood work back, we perform a comprehensive screening (hepatitis, MMR, varicella, etc.). The refugees come back to get all the immunizations they need, and usually a flu shot as well. We prescribe further medication, and perform a more thorough medical history is necessary. Part of the purpose of the second visit is to see how the refugees are coping with life in Canada, and how they are getting by at Wesley Urban Ministries. A big part of all of it is ensuring that they are healthy both physically and mentally. When you think about how little people that aren’t refugees actually receive this level of care, I’m surprised about how good the system really is, it’s actually quite good.
Despite all this, there is still a lot of work to be done. As of now, only government-assisted, privately sponsored, or approved refugees are given access to proper healthcare. For those who can’t readily access the treatments that may potentially save their life, Canada may as well be one of the worst places to immigrate to. In fact, Canada pays the second highest drug prices in the world, only after the US. Amlodipine, a drug used to treat coronary artery disease, is priced at $130 in Canada, but only $10 in New Zealand. So it’s quite embarrassing that I’ve seen articles titled, “The Canadian Remedy: How to save hundreds on prescription drugs” written by ABC affiliated-WZZM where they advocate travelling across the border to “save hundreds, even thousands” on prescription drugs. Canada needs more systems and companies like New Zealand’s PHARMAC, which dramatically lowers the price of drugs to make them more affordable and accessible.
And although there is still a lot of work to be done in a world where so much of society is divided, and where Muslims have never felt more unwelcome, the recent appeal has given the refugees the sole most important thing in this battle for social justice: hope.
Written by: Jason Liu
Jason is currently in his first year of undergraduate studies at Western University and serves as one of UAEM Western's Empowerment and Events representatives.