Doc­tors gear­ing up to pro­vide Syr­ian refugees with much-needed pri­mary health care


When Syr­ian refugees be­gin ar­riv­ing in Canada in the com­ing weeks, one of the top pri­or­i­ties will be get­ting them ba­sic health care - some­thing most mi­grants will have gone with­out while liv­ing in makeshift camps far from home, some­times for years.

“I think this group - and I think it’s true of all refugees, but per­haps more so for the Syr­i­ans what they need is really good pri­mary care,” said Dr. Meb Rashid, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of the Cross­roads clinic at Women’s Col­lege Hos­pi­tal in Toronto, which spe­cial­izes in im­mi­grant health.

Cross­roads is one of sev­eral clin­ics that will pro­vide health ser­vices to Syr­ian refugees who come to Toronto, which could take in thou­sands of mi­grants over the next few months.

“We’re an­tic­i­pat­ing a fairly sig­nif­i­cant surge for our clin­ics start­ing rel­a­tively quickly af­ter ar­rival,” said Rashid.

“What we’re an­tic­i­pat­ing in this group is a lot of gar­den-va­ri­ety pri­mary care - kids who need their im­mu­niza­tions, chil­dren who have fail­ure to thrive, peo­ple who are di­a­betic and don’t know it or peo­ple who are di­a­betic and haven’t been able to get their med­i­ca­tions or as­sess­ments.”

Refugees will un­dergo med­i­cal test­ing be­fore they are al­lowed on a plane bound for Canada, with screen­ing for such com­mu­ni­ca­ble diseases as tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, al­though Rashid said re­ports from Europe sug­gest TB rates among Syr­ian mi­grants are rel­a­tively low.

Doc­tors also don’t fore­see more com­mon trans­mis­si­ble diseases to be a ma­jor con­cern among refugees, al­though there may be cases of in­fec­tious di­ar­rhea and leish­ma­ni­a­sis, a par­a­sitic in­fec­tion that af­fects the skin.

“But cer­tainly we’re not ex­pect­ing the type of in­fec­tious diseases we see in many other refugee mi­gra­tions,” he said.

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