Cumming researcher digs into immigrant health-care obstacles with help of Bangladeshi-Canadian community

April 3, 2018

By By Jennifer Allford, Cumming School of Medicine |

A University of Calgary researcher and Calgary’s Bangladeshi-Canadian community are working together to ultimately break down the barriers immigrants face when they need to access health care.

Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, PhD, a public health researcher at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), led a town hall meeting of community members supported by the Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement (SPaCE) and O’Brien Institute for Public Health, the second phase in an ongoing study.

“We can work with the community to select, tailor and implement interventions to overcome the barriers,” he says. “We now have a budding collaboration across academia, community, facilitators and providers to start working collaboratively towards that goal.”

The first phase of his study, a collaborative project with the Immigrant and Refugee Health Interest Group of the Department of Family Medicine at CSM and the Bangladesh Canada Association of Calgary (BCAOC), identified a number of barriers facing immigrant communities. At the town hall, people sat at round tables drinking tea and ticking boxes ranking those barriers. Resources and health-care costs came in at the top of the list and cultural differences and transportation came near the bottom.

“It’s really good. We really appreciate the initiative,” says Afsana Rahman, who came to Canada from Bangladesh five years ago. “Everywhere I feel that I have to wait for a long time to see the doctor. I think the long wait time is a big barrier. And sometimes we don’t know where to go.”

Understanding the type of care offered by different facilities, and what those services may cost is “the main thing,” says Rumana Nahid, who has been in Canada for seven years. “So many of these barriers we can overcome — transportation, the language barrier, we can manage that,” says Nahid, who works in the health-care sector in Calgary. “But as immigrants, we don’t always know what services we get from government. What is free and what is not free. If we call 911, is the ambulance free? That’s the big issue, many people don’t know.”

Turin, who is an immigrant himself, was surprised to learn at the town hall that these sorts of knowledge gaps exist in the community. He suspects the health-care system is approaching knowledge translation as a one-way street. “As a society we’re pushing information out and are not thinking about whether people understand the information or whether the community members are acting on the information,” he says. “The lack of community-based, community-oriented and community-centered initiatives also surprised me. But, on the bright side — now we have the opportunity to turn things around.”

The researchers plan to reach out with social media and other online platforms to Bangladeshi-Canadian communities across Canada to get their perspectives on the town hall findings. Researchers will also meet with other immigrant communities in Calgary at “coffee chats” and work on developing solutions to the barriers.

“We get 250,000 immigrants in Canada every year, a lot are Asian and South Asian and they face the same problems, language, wait time and all that,” says Sam Huda, who immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh 38 years ago. “How do we allocate funds to get the best of the money the government is spending on health care. That’s why we need this study.”

Tanvir Chowdhury Turin, PhD, is a researcher with the departments of family medicine and community health sciences. He is also a member of the CSM’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health and Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta. His primary research interest is improving access to primary care for vulnerable populations, including new immigrants and refugees.

The pressures of our rapidly growing global population are driving unprecedented changes in our social, political, cultural and natural systems. The University of Calgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World research strategy is addressing our need to understand how we adapt to rapid change, to ensure our security and quality of life.

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