November 25, 2015 3:00 pm
Updated: November 25, 2015 8:36 pm

Syrian refugees coming to N.S. expected to have health issues

WATCH ABOVE: Nova Scotia is preparing to accept an influx of refugees from Syria. But some doctors say they will be coming with a host of health issues. Julia Wong reports.


HALIFAX – Doctors in Nova Scotia are planning and preparing to treat the health needs of Syrian refugees coming to the province.

READ MORE: Canada to miss target of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by year’s end

Dr. Tim Holland, physician with the Transitional Health Clinic for Refugees, said there will be a number of health issues to address once the refugees arrive.

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“Acute health issues that have gone unmet for years during the instability in their home country as well as chronic disease management, screening for diabetes, hypertension, infectious disease screening,” he said.

“There’s a host of other issues associated with mental health and their general well-being that’s going to be difficult to keep up with in initial assessments.”

Holland describes the refugee population as a very special demographic due to the inconsistent healthcare they have received.

He said the clinic is ramping up its services to ensure they receive proper care.

“We’re definitely going to be increasing our intake by exponential factors. In order to keep up with that, we’re anticipating increasing our physician volunteers at the clinic by a factor of four,” he said.

Holland said the clinic is also reaching out to to community physicians through the Nova Scotia Health Authority and the Department of Health and Wellness to provide more assistance for the clinic.

Mental health assessments important

Dr. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry professor at Dalhousie University and expert on the mental health of children and youth, said it will be critical to examine the refugees’ mental health as well.

He wants to dispel the misconception that all refugees have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and mental health issues.

READ MORE: Here’s how refugees are screened before arriving to Canada

“The possibility that there will be some that will have PTSD and other mental illnesses is absolutely correct but that would be the minority,” he said.

“The vast majority of the people in this population will be mentally healthy and will be physically healthy.”

However, Kutcher said there will be challenges for them as they move from one culture to another.

“Coming from a war situation into a peace situation, coming from sometimes real dislocation from family and friends, there are going to be psychological challenges they will need to overcome,” he said.

Kutcher said the issues could include things such as learning a new culture, understanding a new language and establishing a friend base.

He said there is the possibility the refugees’ understanding of mental health and mental illness may be different from Canadians.

“There are many countries where the understanding…is not the same, [where it] has not kept up with new research and new understanding and that will be more challenging,” he said.

Kutcher said healthcare providers will need to be adapt slightly when speaking with refugees about mental health issues.

“They will have to be able to present their concerns to their patient in a respectful, cultural appropriate but also supportive manner. They will often have to take extra time to discuss what they’re seeing to help put it into context,” he said.

When asked whether the healthcare system is prepared and equipped to deal with the influx of refugees, Kutcher said he has confidence in it.

READ MORE: Canada’s scrambling to resettle 25,000 Syrians but won’t say when refugee healthcare will be restored

“Most of the people that are coming are going to be healthy people. They’re not going to be putting a huge drain on our healthcare system,” he said.

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