You are a new immigrant to Canada and you are sick
It’s true, anytime you travel in the world these days, you can easily catch a new bug and your body immediately becomes weak as it tries to fight off the invading pathogen while a prescription for antibiotics won’t necessarily work and are completely ineffective at fighting off the so-called super strains that make the evening news. However, over 250,000 new immigrants each year, despite the risks, make their way to Canada for a better life, to avail of a world class education system, strong and stable economy, and a free universal healthcare system.
However, unbeknownst to many Canadians, new immigrants face unseen barriers affecting accessibility. Also, we are in a time where the Canadian healthcare system is being restructured and this has affected access to healthcare for certain groups such as refugees or those most vulnerable and in need. There was a recent story in the news of a refugee mother who had a 5 year old daughter who had a broken nose and needed immediate medical attention, but they couldn’t pay the Canadian healthcare bill. Under the current political climate, it can be a real challenge to access basic healthcare if you are new to the country.
I have experienced this health challenge first hand, struggling to re-establish myself in Canada after being away. It isn’t an easy thing to do when you are new, sick and trying to find your first job, constantly worried about money and where the resources to pay for everything are going to come from. It can be an up-at-dawn, back-breaking task for even the most hearty of constitutions.
I’d like to start by saying that all the agencies across Canada that support new immigrants are rather shocked at the changes to the immigrant healthcare system. If we think back to the 1850s, Canada saw boats coming to the New World from Ireland filled with families escaping one of the worst holocausts in history – the potato famine. Ireland was under the suppression of the British Empire during the 1850s and the Irish people were not allowed to eat any other food but the potato crop. However in 1845, the potato crop failed. And – it continued to fail for the next 7 years. There was plenty of food to eat in Ireland, but the Irish people were only allowed to eat potatoes and no other crop. The Irish population during these years went from 8 million to just under 4 million and has never recovered since. Many Irish people set sail for the New World, and hoping against all hope for a better life in Canada. When the “coffin-boats” they were nicknamed, began to arrive in Eastern Canada, the Canadians had to make a decision about how they were going to handle hundreds of thousands of starving and sick Irish people. Canada decided that they would give emergency healthcare and treatment as well as support to the Irish. And today, the country of Canada was built on the backs of poor Irish, and many other ethnic populations – and so today as Canadians we are reaping the rewards of that initial help and good-Samaritan ship that was shown to those people in dire need of medical assistance. And it’s what made Canada the democratic country it is today, built on the principles of natural justice and equality. And I’m sure Minister of CIC, Jason Kenney, being of Irish descent, would agree that because his refugee ancestors were medically treated when they arrived on Canadian shores many years ago, that he is in part where he is today, due to the generosity of the Canadian people. We are all immigrants in Canada except for the Aboriginal First Nation peoples.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees all Canadians (and Permanent Residents) access to legal, social and healthcare services. The Charter under Section 7 has a constitutional provision that protects an individual’s autonomy and personal legal rights from actions of the government in Canada. There are three types of protection within the section, namely the right to life, liberty, and security of the person. This Charter provision provides both substantive and procedural rights. It has broad application beyond merely protecting due process in administrative proceedings and in the adjudicative context, and has in certain circumstances touched upon major national policy issues such as entitlement to social assistanceand public health care. As such, it has proven to be a controversial provision in the Charter.
The cost of health care is increasing over time at a greater rate than other expenditures such as clothing, food and shelter, according to latest reports coming out of Health Canada and Statistics Canada, and this cost does not necessarily mean better value for your money, which varies province to province. And that’s just for what’s considered basic or essential health care services, such as family doctor’s visits, surgeries and hospital treatment. Although sometimes subsidized, other services such as dental work, private hospital rooms and prescription drugs are not free of charge in most cases.
What is and what isn’t covered depends on where you live. Each province or territory has its own health care plans. And so before you come to Canada, ideally, it would be best to spend some time researching your destination Province’s healthcare website and reading about what will be covered upon arrival and what won’t be covered (ie. Prescriptions, dental work, etc.).
We encounter other accessibility problems especially with new immigrant populations that have chronic conditions such as yeast infections, fungal infections (which don’t always show up in the conventional testing) as well as digestive disorders all the way to Multiple Sclerosis and Cancer. Canadian healthcare services can be particularly bad for other chronic illnesses such as arthritis and mental health issues. Lack of access to mental health services is of particular concern for immigrants, who may have faced trauma in their country of origin and can have difficulty adjusting to a new country. And under the current political climate, social services in mental health have been cut back to a record low level that is putting extreme pressure on an already over-burdened system. In BC, the Government closed many settlement and social services programs, funding gets tossed between the Federal Government and the Provincial Government with no real consistency or consensus on how to run the social system and build it for efficiency. There are problems here that need urgent addressing. The urgency of the matter is so much so, that Canadian doctors have themselves published a report on the failings of these Government cuts that have been made to immigrant and refugee healthcare access – you can read the full report on their findings here: http://www.doctorsforrefugeecare.ca/further-reading-survey.html
While Canada is not perfect in health, if you are a new immigrant and you are sick, here are some options that are available to you in the event you need medical assistance:
1) Walk-in Clinics: There are hundreds of walk-in medical clinics in the major cities where you can access a doctor immediately. If you are under the MSP program (ie. Here in BC) you will not have to pay. If you are not covered under MSP, you can expect to pay about $50.00 for each visit.
2) Major Hospitals: There are several major hospitals within each city and district area. Here you can access emergency services and receive full blood work and testing. They will ask you for your CareCard and if you are covered under MSP. If you are not, then you will need to pay for the services.
3) Alternative Therapies: I was at a talk last week on intestinal health through digestion at Vancouver Public Library. It was given by world renowned biological doctor, Dr. Thomas Rau of the Rau Clinic in Switzerland. Dr. Rau is a world class MD who practices natural healing of the gut (your intestinal system) in order to cure chronic disease and conditions. This event was done in partnership with Finlandia Pharmacy http://www.finlandiapharmacy.com/ here in Vancouver. Dr. Rau teaches Naturopathic Doctors all over the world to incorporate his methods into healing their patients. If you cannot afford a visit to the Clinic in Switzerland (like most of us), you can go to Finlandia Pharmacy here in Vancouver and talk to the friendly, highly qualified staff that work there and use and incorporate Dr. Rau’s remedies into all of their products and services. Finlandia has both a medical compounding pharmacy as well as a natural and homeopathic clinic and product dispensary. It is the most thorough and complete integrative medical approach I’ve seen here in Vancouver. The best part about this is that you can immediately access this, and get free advice, and then purchase your products. Also, antibiotics in most cases don’t help you and you want to build up your immune system with natural probiotic therapies, prebiotic therapies, and get rid of the bad bugs with anti-pathogenic remedies such as oil of oregano, monolaurin, lactic acid, alpha lipoic acid, amino acid complex, and fungal drops if necessary. They even have a naturopathic doctor on the store floor to answer quick questions!
http://www.drrausway.com/ or even cheaper – you can buy Dr. Rau’s book and follow his instructions to heal yourself.
Also, consider going to a Functional Medical Doctor. Functional Medicine is picking up speed and there are MD’s in your area that have this additional training that can help you get the root of your chronic fatigue and illness. For a complete list of trained MDs in Functional Medicine, go here: http://www.functionalmedicine.org/practitioner_search.aspx?id=117
And, there are Functional and integrative medicine clinics already established here in Vancouver that are offering both natural and medical combined patient care (ie. Connect Health near Kits http://www.connecthealthcare.ca/
Top five “must haves” natural remedies
1) Manuka Honey: I know it’s expensive, but so are medical procedures.
2) Probiotic: If necessary, get a medical grade probiotic like VSL#3 from Walmart, Pharmasave, most pharmacies can order this for you. It is also expensive, but worth it. You must restore the bacterial flora in your intestine that was lost through travel, exposure, new environments, toxins, household molds your immune system has never encountered before, etc.
3) Flax Oil: Fish oil is great, but it also has Omega 6. Flax oil has nearly no omega 6 which causes inflammation in the body. Anywhere from 2 – 6 tablespoons of flax oil a day will keep your immune system and colon in good shape and help to fend off foreign invaders in your gut. And it will keep your skin looking vibrant and subtle.
4) Alkalizing Powder: You can get this Basic Power or Akala N Powder from Healthfood stores. It will immediate correct any PH digestive imbalances and it immediately takes away stomach upset, nausea, and any kind of body inflammation. Bad bugs be gone!
5) Amino Acid Complex: Amino acids are critical to healing a body from overload, stress and pathogen interruption. Also consider metal detox programs, and keep the cortisol levels normal in your body – cortisol feeds bad bacteria!
Even though these remedies are effective, there is no substitute for a good diet free of processed foods. And if you can go gluten and dairy free, so much the better as these are the top two irritants of the gut and responsible for 80% of the cases of chronic illness (per Dr. Rau).
You can find gluten free pure oats as well as other quality gluten free products at Galloways http://gallowaysfoods.com/
4) Urgent Care Resources:
Contact: VRSA www.vrsa.ca
HIV / AIDS information sessions: Before and after the HIV test which is done as part of the immigration procedure, VRSA health staff at SOS will provide private counselling so that you understand your options, depending on the test results.
Persons with AIDS (PWA) support program: Staff will work with you on a personal health plan to meet your needs and help link you with other groups and individuals for support.
Staff provide informal outreach services for members of the Lesbian, Gay, bi-sexual and trans-gendered (lgbt) community who may feel marginalised and unable to access services. (http://www.qmunity.ca)
Mental health: Feeling depressed during the stress and tension of the refugee claim process is normal. VRSA health staff can provide initial assistance and referrals to mental health practitioners.
5) Interim Healthcare Program: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/goc/interim_health.shtml
For people who come to Canada and who cannot afford private healthcare assistance for the initial first 3 months, can access this program.
The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) provides limited, temporary, taxpayer-funded coverage of health-care benefits to people in the following groups who are not eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance:
- protected persons, including resettled refugees;
- refugee claimants; and
- Certain other groups.
The IFHP provides three basic types of coverage:
- Health-care coverage; or
- Expanded health-care coverage; or
- Public health or public safety health care coverage.
The IFHP also covers the cost of the Immigration Medical Examination for all refugee claimants as their claim is being processed.
You can download the application for the IFHP Program here: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/information/applications/ifh.asp
Despite the cuts to this program, and despite the elimination of certain groups to this program, Basic Healthcare is provided to legitimate claimants of refugee status in Canada.
6) Immigration Settlement Assistance: There are several programs and agencies that offer immigrant settlement service and can offer some financial and social support to help you get started here in Canada. Resources are limited, but these agencies can absolutely help make the first 2 or 3 weeks in Canada much better than if you were left to do it alone:
The Red Cross First Contact Program: www.redcross.ca/lowermainland
Vancouver Refugee Services Alliance: www.vrsa.com
ISS of BC: http://www.issbc.org/
CHIMO Crisis Services: http://www.chimoservices.com/
Inland Refugee Society of British Columbia: www.inlandrefugeesociety.com
And remember, if all else fails, get in touch with the UNHCR’s resettlement office here: www.unhcr.ca as their mandate is to protect all refugees here in Canada and ensure they are treated with fairness no matter what their circumstances may be. And you can ask the UNHCR to send a representative to observe your detention, your hearing, or whatever serious challenge you may face. The Red Cross also sends representatives regularly to observe fairness of treatment on behalf of detainees here in Canada.
Healing yourself from illness, overcoming past trauma, as well as establishing yourself in Canada is a huge challenge and it can take time. Take time to rest, and drink plenty of fluids to flush out the toxic build-up. And sometimes doctors don’t have the time to listen. So listen to your body, and become your own health facilitator and advocate. Shop around, ask questions, and get a referral to another specialist for a second opinion if needed. Access support services, and maintain your sense of hope, and never give up! You will overcome this challenge and you will succeed in your dream of establishing a home here in Canada. Remember that there are resources here, community workers, social workers, healthcare providers, and legal aid assistance if it is required and if additional assistance is needed.
Yours in good health,
Julie McMahon is the Founder of Immigrant Business BC