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Doctor blasts new health benefits for refugees

July 10, 2012 - All News

A four-and-a-half-year-old girl living in Parkdale and seeking asylum from persecution in her country of origin, brings to light the deadly affects changes to the federal interim health care benefits, says downtown west end Dr. Anna Banerji.
Banerji is a specialist in children’s infectious diseases and works with refugees at St. Joseph’s and St. Michael’s hospitals. Recently, she and her colleagues treated the young girl who arrived at the emergency room at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the downtown west end. The girl almost died of meningitis, but Banerji said they were able to diagnose and treat the child.
Should that same scenario present itself today, Banerji said the outcome could be different because as of July 1, she would no longer have health-care benefits.
In April, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney announced changes to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), which provides limited, temporary, taxpayer-funded coverage of health-care benefits to protected persons, including resettled refugees; refugee claimants; and certain other groups who are not eligible for provincial or territorial health insurance, according to www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/outside/arriving-healthcare.asp.
“She (the girl) may not have come to the emergency department, she may have had this Meningococcal disease progress, which a complication is loss of limbs. She may have had severe brain damage,” Banerji said, adding even the hesitation to seek attention for just of a few hours could have resulted in the girl’s death.
Banerji said she fears changes to refugee health benefits will cause such a hesitation.
With the exception of those who fall under the government-approved refugee system, refugees no longer have access to the IFHP, which up until July 1 provided health benefits to refugees on a temporary basis until they qualified for provincial and territorial coverage.
“The refugees I see are malnourished, they have severe dental cavities, they have multiple intestinal parasites, lateen tuberculosis,” Banerji said. “Many of them have experienced a loss of their families or family members and have witnessed or experienced abuse.”
She said denying these people access to health care is unethical.
Without access to health benefits, Banerji said many refugee children cannot get vaccinated and therefore cannot attend school. Children with fever will not be assessed for malaria, typhoid or pneumonia. Minor skin infections will end up in blood infections and possibly meningitis. Asthmatics won’t be treated and will end up in the emergency department or worse, Banerji said.
“Our society will have to deal with these complications,” Banerji said.
Kenney has said the new legislation aims to stop the abuse of Canada’s immigration system.
“Canada’s immigration and refugee system is one of the most fair and generous in the world and will continue to be so under the new and improved system,” he said in a statement.
However, Parkdale-High Park MP Peggy Nash, who hosted a press conference to protest cuts to refugee health benefits at Parkdale Community Health Centre recently, said these changes will have devastating affects in her riding and ridings like it throughout Canada.
All refugees should have health-care benefits, Nash said.
Parkdale is home to a large population of Roma people and Nash said she is concerned about the impact these cuts will have on them.
“Under the changes Minister Kenney has made, they would be denied benefits for themselves and their families,”
Nash said Parkdale Colligate Institute has at least 150 students who will be denied access to health care under the changes.
“Access to health care is essential for all people, especially children,” Nash said. “These students are going through important formative stages in their lives and need access to health care.”
Shirley Roberts, the director of primary health care at the Parkdale Community Health Centre (PCHC), explained the centre serves more than 400 people who are receiving IFHP benefits. That means that 13 per cent of the clients at PCHC could be affected by the changes to the legislation.
Roberts said they see clients who have come to Canada fleeing persecution and have not had access to proper health care in their country of origin. At the health centre, they see refugees, who as a result, have complex medical problems.
With these changes to the benefits, Roberts said she is particularly concerned about refugees living with diabetes because they would no longer have access to insulin.
Ideally, Roberts said, the legislation would go back to how it was before where under all refugees on Interim Federal benefits had access to anything Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) covers.
— Metroland News Service

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