Health care needs and use of health care services among newly arrived Syrian refugees: a cross-sectional study

  1. Anna Oda, RN, MN,
  2. Andrew Tuck, MA,
  3. Branka Agic, PhD,
  4. Michaela Hynie, PhD,
  5. Brenda Roche, PhD,
  6. Kwame McKenzie, MD

+ Author Affiliations

  1. Affiliations: Health Equity (Oda, Tuck, Agic, McKenzie), Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; Dalla Lana School of Public Health (Agic) and Department of Psychiatry (McKenzie), University of Toronto; Department of Psychology (Hynie), York University; Wellesley Institute (Roche, McKenzie), Toronto, Ont.
  2. Correspondence to:
    Anna Oda, anna.oda@camh.ca

Abstract

Background: Canada welcomed 33 723 Syrian refugees between November 2015 and November 2016. This paper reports the results of a rapid assessment of health care needs and use of health care services among newly arrived Syrian refugees in Toronto.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was conducted in Toronto among Syrian refugees aged 18 years or more who had been in Canada for 12 months or less. Participants were recruited initially through distribution of flyers in hotels and through direct referrals and communication with community and settlement agency partners, and then through snowball sampling. We collected sociodemographic information and data on self-perceived physical health and mental health, unmet health care needs and use of health care services.

Results: A total of 400 Syrian refugees (221 women [55.2%] and 179 men [44.8%]) were enrolled. Of the 400, 209 (52.2%) were privately sponsored refugees, 177 (44.2%) were government-assisted refugees, and 12 (3.0%) were refugees under the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program. They reported high levels of self-perceived physical and mental health. Over 90% of the sample saw a doctor in their first year in Canada, and 79.8% had a family doctor they saw regularly. However, almost half (49.0%) of the respondents reported unmet health care needs, with the 3 most common reasons reported being long wait times, costs associated with services and lack of time to seek health care services.

Interpretation: Many factors may explain our respondents’ high levels of self-perceived physical and mental health during the first year of resettlement, including initial resettlement support and eligibility for health care under the Interim Federal Health Program. However, newly arrived Syrian refugees report unmet health care needs, which necessitates more comprehensive care and management beyond the initial resettlement support.

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