WATCH: A team of Calgary doctors is stepping up to make sure refugee claimants have a healthy start in a new country. Reid Fiest has the story.
Going for a yearly check-up at the doctor’s office is something many Canadians take for granted. But for refugees, it may be one of the first times receiving quality medical care since fleeing in their home countries.
Dr. Annalee Coakley and 11 other doctors deliver it at the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic in Calgary, saying the need is great.
“They often come to Canada with complex medical problems,” Coakley told Global News.
With the help of translators, social workers and other staff, they are the first point of healthcare contact for hundreds of patients who are new to this country.
Many come from refugee camps, where the number of patients needing care is great.
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Coakley worked at the Kakuma camp in Kenya earlier this year, where about 40 refugees there end up coming to Calgary each year.
She said it’s vital that newcomers get good treatment immediately, for their health and the health of Canadians.
“If they have an illness, it has to be treated so they can be healthy productive members of society,” Coakley said.
But in 2012, Canada scaled back funding to refugee health services.
While most still had access to basic health care, it prompted patients and physicians to take the government to court.
A Federal Court ruling last July ordered the government to restore some of the additional benefits, but the government is still appealing the decision.
In the meantime, many refugees still don’t have essential prescription drug or optical coverage.
“We could diagnose their infection, we could write a prescription, but they’re unable to afford the cost of the medication,” Coakley said.
Every doctor at the clinic now donates their own money to a $20,000 dollar fund to cover those costs if patients can’t pay.
Tara Khandi, who fled Iraq with her family in 2011, said she’s grateful for the care she’s received at the Mosaic Refugee Health Clinic. She said the support from the clinic gave them the strength to start new lives in Canada.
“I hope that I can [return] this generosity and I can show my appreciation for them,” Khandi said.
Coakley, however, said her patients owe her nothing, that this is her and Canada’s responsibility.
If the health issues aren’t addressed now, the bill to taxpayers will only grow, she noted.
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