TORONTO – Medical practitioners all over Canada have come out to protest the federal government’s intentions to stop providing comprehensive health care to refugees suffering from certain ailments.
Over 90 physicians staged a protest last Friday outside the office of federal Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver. Other protests were also reported in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Montreal and Vancouver.
“It is perplexing why the government is doing this” said Dr. Meb Rashid from Women’s College Hospital, which set up Toronto’s first hospital-based refugee health clinic.
“I have 10 years of treating refugees. They come to Canada suffering from diseases such as diabetes, mental illness and preventative heart diseases and most of them cannot afford $50 worth of medicine They come here with absolutely nothing,” said Rashid.
“It is not the Canada I know to be treating vulnerable people like this,” said Rashid, who also participated in Friday’s protest.
The federal government says it will save taxpayers $100 million in the next five years but others say this will backfire.
Refugees will only access health care for diseases that are potentially risky to the Canadian people such as tuberculosis and HIV.
“The government will incur more expenses in the long run. I think denying people access to preventative medication has more cost outcomes in the future,” said Dr. Michael Stephenson. He works at a community health-care centre for refugees run by Access Alliance foundation in Toronto.
“If someone who needs medication to prevent heart disease gets a heart attack later on, the cost to the system is huge both in terms of hospital costs and the economy through lost productivity in the labour market,” said Stephenson.
Doctors say refugees will be find different ways to get health care.
“Some of the refugee claimants will be forced to go on social assistance in order to access programs that are being cut,” said Stephenson.
Experts have faulted the proposed health reforms for refugees saying there is a potential risk of creating different classes of refugees. According to Bill C-31, refugees coming from yet-to-be named countries will have no medical coverage whatsoever while others will be entitled to very limited access to urgent medical care.