How can health communication address declining immigrant health post-settlement in Canada?

Two years after immigrants arrive in British Columbia, their health is worse than when they arrived.

To me, that fact is staggering.

Post-settlement, health declines.

Why?

If a very significant percentage of your population have social, cultural or language barriers in the way of access to and through the health care system, how do you communicate health information to these communities?

In British Columbia, one way it’s being addressed is with an event called the Multicultural Health Fair. I’m promoting the event for AMSSA. It’s the largest of its kind in Canada – an event designed to provide multilingual, culturally-sensitive health screenings, health workshops, and health information to newcomers who aren’t comfortable accessing, or have difficulty accessing, the health care system. The research is both discouraging and fascinating.

Women who’ve been in the country over ten years fare worst of all. People from multicultural communities often don’t trust the health care system. In this country, it’s tough enough for the Canadian-born to find their way through the system. It can be extraordinarily difficult for people with cultural and language barriers to figure out how to understand and access health care services.

Exhibitors include some grassroots services that are out there for the multicultural community … like the Multicultural Family Centre (MFC).   Basically, the MFC develops and implements programs with communities, as opposed to for them.  One cool program MFC is launching is with the Latin American community – one of the largest they work with here in Vancouver. They are creating a big Latin American community garden in East Vancouver. The community is designing it, the plants chosen will be related to their culture, and all signs will be in Spanish. It will have a grow-your-own-food aspect, and offer community-building to counter the isolation (threatening mental health) that immigrants often face.

One other MFC example has to do with diabetes. Specific cultural groups are at higher risk for diabetes than the general (Canadian-born / immigrant) Canadian population.  One part of this may be that immigrants often don’t go to to health screenings – because of lack of information about health issues, and because of a lack of services in languages other than English.

As I understand it, the Multicultural Family Centre trains people in each specific culture to run the screenings in their own language, and adapted to their own cultural sensitivities. And the public do attend.

Facts:

  • One million immigrants live in British Columbia.
  • One quarter of the BC population have a mother tongue that isn’t English.
  • BC has the highest proportion of visible minorities of any province in the country.
  • The South Asian countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal account for about a quarter of the world’s population and contribute the highest proportion of cardiovascular diseases compared with any other region worldwide.
  • Immigrants are under-served by the mental health service system.

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