May 15, 2012

Health Providers Against Povery Demands Cuts to Refugee Healthcare Be Reversed

TORONTO – Health Providers Against Poverty stands with the growing opposition to the federal government’s cuts to refugee healthcare services. Last week there were physician-led protests in many cities, with several HPAP members participating.

 “The patients I see have often come from horrendous circumstances, surviving torture, rape and displacement,” said Dr. Malika Sharma, an internist in Toronto. “Under the federal changes, there is no way to provide them with adequate care during pregnancy or to manage chronic conditions like diabetes. Not only will this worsen the health of already vulnerable people, it will cost the system more in the end when they present to the hospital for emergency care.”

As of June 30th, refugee claimants and refugees will lose almost all access to healthcare. Most will be denied coverage for anything but emergency conditions and diseases deemed a risk to “public health or public safety.” The government will also be able to designate “safe countries” whose citizens will not be able to access any healthcare coverage if they file refugee claims in Canada.

 “The government’s definition of ‘public health’ is far too narrow. Public health encompasses preventive primary care, not only treatment for diseases like tuberculosis and HIV,” said Dr. Monika Dutt, a public health physician. “It is also inaccurate to designate a ‘safe country’ without acknowledging that there may be circumstances in any country that can compel someone to see refuge, such as persecution on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.”

Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, has dismissed healthcare providers’ concerns. He inaccurately claims that refugees and claimants have access to a “comprehensive check-up” (actually an extremely basic immigration medical examination) and that they can access most of the provincial services available to Canadians.

“The Minister clearly hasn’t consulted with frontline healthcare providers who see these patients daily,” said Laura Hanson, a community nurse in Toronto. “These are people who typically come here with very little, and now we are taking away the minimal level of healthcare they had to help them get started in Canada. We call on the Conservative government to reverse its changes.”