Jasmine and Robert came to Canada on July 12 of 2011 as refugee claimants. Their older son Paul is twelve years old and Jasmine is pregnant again. When they arrived in Canada, they felt good, because they were safe and they had all that they needed: They received help for food and shelter from Ontario Works and healthcare free from the government. However, on May of 2012, they received a letter where the government told to them that since June 30 of 2012, the Interim Federal Health (IFH) would change. They did not know what kind of changes could happen, it was only when Jasmine tried to book an appointment with the family doctor for her son that she realized how things had changed. The secretary told to her that she could not book an appointment for refugee or refugee claimant because the law had changed. With the new information, Jasmine was worried and tried to get an appointment with her gynaecologist but again the secretary told Jasmine that she could not book an appointment, for the same reason that the family doctor´s secretary had told to her. Jasmine and Robert are really worried. Their son has a sugar problems and if he does not receive medical treatment on time, later he may develop Diabetes.
The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) provides access to refugees and refugee claimants who need healthcare for a period of time, and who generally have no other way of obtaining necessary health benefits.
On April 25th, 2012 the Federal government announced cuts to most healthcare benefits for refugees that are currently provided by Canada’s IFHP, effective on June 30, 2012.
The changes to the IFHP include cutting access to essential medication, cuts to basic primary health care, cuts to dental care, vision care and cuts to mobility devices like wheelchairs, for many classes of refugees. Healthcare services to be cut include prenatal care, child health check-ups and access to mental health care. Most refugees are now only entitled to basic emergency care – they are not entitled to medication or vaccines unless their condition is deemed to pose a threat to public health.
Implications for Children & Youth
These cuts to the IFHP will leave some of Canada’s most vulnerable children and youth without access to primary and preventive health care. Many will have experienced horrific trauma and persecution and their families endured great hardship to come to our safe country. In some cases, these children may be without health insurance for many years. Certain refugee claimants in Canada will even be denied coverage for emergency health services. These changes will not only gravely impact the short- and long-term health of refugees living in Canada but also result in increased financial, health and societal costs to the Canadian public as a whole. The changes to IFHP contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and will also deny what is deemed a fundamental right to Canadian society; access to basic health care.
How will the changes impact the immediate and long term health of children & youth?
First of all, how will the changes impact the immediate health of children and youth? Ending coverage for basic health care will result in no access to care for the diagnosis and treatment of common illnesses including infections. Chronic medical conditions that are routinely present in early childhood such as asthma and inflammatory bowel diseases may be diagnosed late, or not at all.
Early intervention for these conditions prevents hospitalizations and maintains good health, whereas delays may result in serious consequences. n addition, there will be no ability to diagnose and manage mental health conditions which are known to affect child refugees at higher rates due to trauma related to the refugee experience. Also, cuts means that children and youth do not have access of the preventive health screening, which will result in a failure to diagnose problems such as developmental delays, vision and hearing disabilities all of which require early intervention. Finally, lack of coverage for prenatal and obstetrical care, including deliveries, will most certainly lead to preventable perinatal morbidities. These could include increased rates of prematurity, low birth weight, uncontrolled gestational diabetes, brain damage, or worst neonatal deaths.
Secondly, how will the changes impact the long-term health and productivity of children and youth?
Given the proven link between primary health care in the early years and later adult health, the IFH changes will definitely affect the overall health and well-being of these children and youth. Children’s health and well-being also declines if parents have uncontrolled chronic medical or psychiatric conditions: If parents are ill, they may not be capable of optimally parenting and caring for their children. The long-term medical and developmental problems resulting from lack of prenatal and obstetrical care will lead to otherwise avoidable costs to the health and social systems.
How do the changes contravene Canadian and international conventions?
One of the basic tenets of Canadian society has been and remains universal access to health care. The primary objective of the Canada Health Act is “to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.”The proposed changes to the IFHP will effectively deny this tenet to some of the most vulnerable children and youth living in our country. This is despite a previous praise Canada’s refugee system received from the UN High Commission for Refugees citing Canada’s “willingness to accept a range of refugees, including urgent protection cases and those with high medical needs, as a strength of the system.”
As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada has agreed that all children and specifically children living in Canada have the basic rights to life, survival and development of their full potential. Article 24 emphasizes “the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attain able standard of health” and to have access to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. It states that “signing parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health.”
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