Letter to Mayor Ford regarding funding for Immigrant Women’s Health Centre

By Miriam Garfinkle
January 9, 2011

Dear Mayor Ford,

I am writing you about the proposed cuts to the Immigrant Women’s Health Centre in Toronto.

I am a family physician who has worked at Immigrant Women’s Health Centre in the past. In fact I was involved in its early years – the first female physician to work there in the 1980’s.

I have also worked at other Public Health Clinics including Hassle Free and at other STI clinics in the city throughout the years. I worked in private practice for almost 25 years and have been at a community health centre for over 10 years where I work presently.

I can say unequivocally that the health work done at Immigrant Women’s Centre is high quality care involving all aspects of immigrant women’s reproductive health. The women receive high quality counselling about birth control, STI prevention and treatment and cervical cancer screening before they even see the medical service provider, in their own language often from someone also from their own culture. This provides a basis of understanding and empowers women with information that they can carry on with beyond the actual clinical visit.

In terms of seeing the medical service provider, more time is needed at their visit due to the need for translation and cultural interpretation. There are sometimes issues of previous traumas or difficult experiences that require more time in assessment. They generally have more complex health issues.

The medical service provider must be careful that the information is properly interpreted and understood by the patient. This also takes time especially if treatment is involved.

Also treatment plans can be more complex due to difficult socio-economic situations.

Their numbers seen are therefore lower than at other Public Health Clinics.

The mobile health clinic that is run by the Centre is also a way of reaching populations who would not otherwise take the time to receive sexual health care. The mobile travels to factories, ESL classes and community centres. Working women, especially poorer immigrant women, would not otherwise take the time in their very busy lives to go for care unless they are sick. It is a very effective way to reach women for screening for STI’s and cervical cancer and offer birth control. It has been shown in public health literature that targeting populations like this is very effective.

The work done at the Immigrant Women’s Centre is basic, essential and high quality public health work. I think it’s actually a bargain when you consider the far-reaching costs saved by the screening and treatment that’s done for STI and cervical cancer, Hepatitis B screening and vaccination, syphilis screening (and I often saw positive tests that hadn’t been picked on immigration screening) and birth control.

They are doing exemplary public health work. If anything, their funding should be increased in my opinion.


Dr. Miriam Garfinkle