A.P is an engineer who worked in India for many years. He migrated with his wife to Canada twenty years ago. Both are highly educated, English speaking – the model immigrants that Canada is always looking for. Both husband and wife found suitable employment in Toronto and were leading a typical middle-class life.
Like a lot of immigrants, A.P does not believe in preventive health. While they do have a family physician, he does not go for an annual check-up. “I feel fine, so what is there to see a doctor for?”, was his refrain. This lackadaisical approach was the reason why physicians were unable to catch the onset of diabetes. The delayed diagnosis cost A.P dearly as he was forced to amputate his leg. He had to quit work and stay at home for a lengthy period of time to recuperate.
A.P is not an outlier when it comes to preventive health among immigrants. There are numerous studies that show that Canadian immigrants are laggards when it comes to preventive health. Exercising, eating healthy food, consulting a physician annually are all concepts that are alien to the vast majority of the immigrant population. These habits, if inculcated early should prevent a diabetes epidemic among immigrant populations. The Globe and Mail writes that diabetes rates are highest among South Asian immigrants, while immigrants from Latin America, Caribbean and African countries showed rates that were double that of the Canadian population.
In this context, the current initiative by the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) in Ottawa, to bring diabetes awareness to Canadian immigrants is a step in the right direction. The Diabetes SCREEN Project plans to conduct, “diabetes risk assessments, education about healthy eating and physical activity, cooking demonstrations, a community meal and identification of people with diabetes using a blood sugar test”. Those identified as pre-diabetic or having diabetes will be referred to diabetes education programs and self-management programs in the area.
The beauty of the SCREEN project is that it is managed by health leaders from the immigrant community. Health information is available in Hindi, Nepali, Spanish and Somali, in addition to English and French. This approach is a step in the right direction, since studies have shown that cultural awareness should form part of any health promotion efforts.