Refugee women’s health is a matter of concern for public health practitioners across Canada. In this episode of Infectious Questions, Shivoan & Zeeshan are joined by Ziba Miab (a doctoral student at the University of Manitoba) who discusses key themes highlighted by refugee women navigating the Canadian healthcare system.

Published: 2019

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Zeeshan:           Welcome to a brand new episode of Infectious Questions, a public health podcast produced by the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases. At NCCID, we help those with infectious disease questions connect to those with answers. Hello, I’m Zeeshan Qadar.

Shivoan:            And I’m Shivoan Balakumar. For this episode of the podcast, we will continue on our focus on refugees and public health. We know there are several issues of concern among public health practitioners across Canada and today we will focus on the experiences and challenges faced by refugee women navigating the Canadian healthcare system.

Zeeshan:           This podcast will narrate some key themes highlighted by refugee women residing across Canada. Let me introduce you to our guest, [Ziba Rovei Miab], a doctoral student in biological sciences and physics who interviewed refugee women as part of a student project at NCCID.

Zeeshan:           Ziba, welcome.

Ziba:                 Thank you.

Zeeshan:           So the first question you ask a refugee woman was about their experience navigating the Canadian healthcare system. What was their response?

Ziba:                 First off, the refugee women identified Emergency wait time as a huge barrier for them to access care in Canada. One participant mentioned that they waited for 7-8 hours in the Emergency Room to see a doctor and even one woman said that they try hard to avoid hospitals because of long wait times and the second important element that was mentioned by these women was that after prolonged stay in Canada, they still don’t have any family doctor. Even scheduling an appointment for them with a medical doctor can be really challenging for them and also access to specialist service was not easy. One of my respondents highlighted that it took them 6 months to get a specialist appointment and one woman summarized her experienced that she was never checked for important things for a woman because they don’t have time for you until you’re too sick, then they would care.

Zeeshan:           Then it seems like Emergency wait times, access to specialized care and family doctor are the most prominent themes mentioned by refugee women. So what was the answer when you asked these refugee women to identify some of the barriers for access to healthcare as a newcomer?

Ziba:                 So the barriers: for example, dental care is limited and expensive and due to these factors, removal of tooth is preferred by women than to get it fixed. Also communication was another barrier in access to care as few doctors speak the same language and hard to explain mental issues and sometimes hard to explain in medical terms. In addition to that, 1 woman visited 2 different specialists and they were not able to diagnose her issues; therefore, she was prescribed painkillers for a long time.

Zeeshan:           This is really important to learn that the key barriers identified by refugee women were oral health, communication and sharing mental health issues with primary care providers. Ziba, further you ask these refugee women if they or their family ever felt alienated when treated for an infectious disease.

Ziba:                 So most of the participants didn’t feel comfortable to answer this question and also a couple of women highlighted that as they look different and speak a different language, they felt inadequate and one of them mentioned that even there is no privacy with curtains. She felt violated as everyone can hear the story and she told her husband not to take her to the hospital unless she’s dying.

Zeeshan:           Good to learn that physical appearance and language appears to be a cause for alienation for refugee women. Also, privacy was a contributing factor too. So the last question you asked, Ziba, was about how comfortable refugee women feel as a newcomer sharing personal health information with a new doctor.

Ziba:                 Regarding the personal health information, one of the women mentioned that she doesn’t mind sharing information at all, but she felt the physicians don’t want to listen and another one mentioned the fact that she hopes that they make us feel worth their time so that they will not feel a burden and can share freely and easily.

Zeeshan:           Now this looks like physician availability and their time was another issue of concern for refugee women.

Zeeshan:           Thank you Ziba.

Ziba:                 You’re welcome.

Shivoan:            Thank you for listening. That’s it for this episode of Infectious Questions. If you have any public health questions related to refugee public health, please email them to or call us toll-free at 1-844-847-9698 and record your questions there. Infectious Questions is a production of the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases.

Zeeshan:           Production of this podcast has been made possible through a financial contribution from the public health agency of Canada. Note the views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the agency. The host organization for the NCCID is the University of Manitoba. Learn more at