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Newcomers arrive in Canada healthier, but lose the advantage over time: researcher

July 12, 2016

Regina Leader-Post | A University of Regina researcher believes the health of new immigrants in Canada is being overlooked, however that may not be the case in Regina.

Michele Degelman’s study, Immigrant Status and having a regular medical doctor among Canadian adults, takes data compiled from the 2011-2012 Canadian Community Health Survey. Her research was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

“I was interested in immigration and health care in general,” she said about her research.

Based on the survey data, immigrants arrive in Canada in better health than their Canadian counterparts, but lose that advantage over time.

“What I found out was that new immigrants are less likely to have a regular doctor compared to non immigrants,” said Degelman. “Having that regular doctor is really beneficial in terms of taking preventative measures, early treatment of diseases, so if someone doesn’t have a regular medical doctor then that may lead to medical health declines in the long term.”

Other research suggests language barriers or a lack of culturally appropriate care may be the reasons why some cannot find a physician, she said.

“It is a really timely project and I think the results need to get out there,” said Degelman. “Canada is extremely dependent on immigration for growth and economic matters and so being able to find solutions is very important.”

According to the Regina Open Door Society (RODS), this issue is already being addressed locally.

Getachew Woldeyesus, RODS manager of settlement family and community services, said helping new Canadians access health care and understand the health system was identified years ago.

“Most of them come from a different health system so they need help to navigate through the system (by) getting referrals and connecting them and things like that,” he said.

Since 2004, RODS has had a health education and services facilitator, as well as, a public health clinic located in one of its buildings.

“We also have a partnership with the Regina Community and Public Health — that is when they come in they go through a voluntary health assessment,” said Woldeyesus. “If there is a need it will be addressed.”

However, he believes more work needs to be done.

Language remains a huge barrier because sometimes an interpreter is not always available for clients.

Another area that needs work is education.

“For some newcomers they don’t go to a physician until they are sick, so instead of that (we encourage) regular checkups,” said Woldeyesus.

He does believe having dedicated health navigators would definitely be an asset for all newcomers.

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