Black people in Canada are at greater risk than others of developing chronic medical conditions that can be traced to lifestyles, lack of proper nutrition, employment and physical activities.
So says Liben Gebremikael, the Ethiopia-born Executive Director of TAIBU Community Health Centre in the Malvern neighbourhood in Toronto.
(TAIBU is a greeting in Swahili which means “be in good health”)
Pointing out the growing need for medical practitioners who are “culturally sensitive and understanding,” Gebremikael noted in a recent interview the “special commitment” of the Health Centre to the Black community while “having an open door” where everyone is welcomed.
“Here at the Centre people feel at home. They know their needs will be met by health care providers whom they can trust.”
Gebremikael said that there are five key areas of services provided by the centre–primary care, illness prevention, health promotion, community capacity building and service integration— and he spoke of several programs specifically designed to meet the needs of the Black community.
He made special mention of the Sickle Cell Clinic, the Diabetes Education and Prevention program, Back To Life Program, the Youth Outreach Program, and the UBUNTU (“I am what I am because of who we all are”) Program for seniors.
The Sickle Cell Clinic, designed for adults living with the disease, provides ” culturally based healthcare services,” said Gebremikael. He explained that “patients who attend this clinic don’t have to rely on emergency hospital visits for their primary care.”
(Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that causes a type of abnormal hemoglobin. The hemoglobin is a protein found in the red blood cells that carry oxygen in the blood. Normal red blood cells are round and flexible. But in sickle cell patients, some of these cells become hard and C-shaped and get stuck in the small blood vessels which block the blood and oxygen from reaching nearby tissues, causing swollen hands and feet, and other problems, including serious infections and organ damage.)
The Diabetes Education and Prevention Program, he explained, is aimed at improving the quality of life for people affected by type two diabetes. He said the program provides service with a high standard of care and education that promotes self management.
(Type two diabetes affects most patients in North America diagnosed with the disease. It is a chronic medical condition that requires regular monitoring and treatment .)
Back To Life is a low back pain management program. A chiropractors and a registered kinesiologist provide medical therapy to patients free of cost, Gebremikael noted.
The Youth Outreach program provides young people with access to a range of healthcare services. He said the focus of this program is ” to develop social skills and promote civic participation, including community peer leadership. ”
UBUNTU is a unique, innovative and comprehensive seniors’ program. ” Older adults are empowered in this program to take ownership of their health and wellbeing through self managed and structured working groups in areas such as physical activity and nutrition,” he explained.
Gebremikael also spoke of the need for major improvements in mental health programs in the Black community. Noting “existing holes “in these programs, he said it can take as long as 18 month for a Black person to receive mental health care or to be diagnosed.
“This should definitely not happen in a place like Canada,” he added.
Gebremikael also said that facilities should be in place “where families and the community can talk openly about mental health issues to better inform themselves about these problem and remove the stigma surrounding mental disorder.”
He noted that the Health Centre provides programs ” to engage youth to address mental health issues.”
“But we at TAIBU cannot do it alone. We need partnership and stakeholders from the community,” he pointed out.
(Philestena McLeod is a Developmental and Mental Health Consultant who specializes in providing counselling support for persons with cognitive and behavioural disorders.