Conference looks at health in multicultural context

A political economic perspective on multicultural health is key to understanding why health inequalities exist among multicultural populations, argued Dr. Kwame McKenzie at the Ontario Multicultural Health Applied Research Network’s (OMHARN) first multicultural health conference in March.

Dr. Kwame McKenzieLeft: Dr. Kwame McKenzie

McKenzie, of the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health, delivered the keynote address, “What Does it Take to Promote Mental Health in Diverse Youth”.  He stressed that there is a need for greater emphasis on increasing mental capital among children and youth in schools. In addition, he said there is a need to create environments that protect mental health and foster development of emotional intelligence.

The OMHARN conference brought together community, practice, policy and research perspectives on multicultural health topics through presentations, inspired dialogues, as well as discussions between 22 speakers, six moderators and 110 delegates from all across Ontario.

Nazilla KhanlouNazilla Khanlou (right), Echo Chair of Women’s Mental Health Research in York’s School of Nursing in the Faculty of Health, is co-director of OMHARN, a collaborative effort between Ryerson University and York University in partnership with Markham Stouffville Hospital.

Khanlou and Alexis Buettgen, a York PhD student in critical disability studies, discussed the development of a database of innovative initiatives ongoing in various agencies and settings in Ontario. To do so, an Internet search was conducted, yielding 54 initiatives –including resources for health-care providers to better support multicultural populations, direct service provisions for multicultural groups and information for newcomers on Ontario health-care practices, rights and access without OHIP.

Several of the initiatives are part of larger initiatives or collaborations between agencies and organizations. They focus on health promotion and prevention, while education and raising awareness of multicultural health needs are key components, says Khanlou. “The database is part of OMHARN’s larger objective to support more and better multicultural health research with an Ontario focus.”

Michaela HynieOMHARN is funded by the Applied Health Research Network Initiative program of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Harvey Skinner, dean of York’s Faculty of Health, and Michaela Hynie (left), director of the York Institute for Health Research in York’s Department of Psychology, sit on the OMHARN governance committee.

In addition to the speakers, there were panel discussions on Community, Practice, Research & Policy together with concurrent sessions on Children & Youth, Women’s Health, Men’s Health and Older Adults, inspired debates on the major challenges in advancing multicultural health research in Ontario and across Canada. Panellists discussed the short-term and long-term action items that OMHARN could undertake to tackle these challenges. Key emerging points were around the need for community-based approaches to research, the opportunity for OMHARN to be a facilitator and link between community, university and policy-makers, and to address multicultural health inequities.

Susan Thompson, OMHARN project coordinator, presented on a scoping review of literature developed in collaboration with Sepali Guruge, co-director of OMHARN, while Dr. Jane Philpott, chief of the Department of Family Medicine at the Markham Stouffvile Hospital, joined Skinner and Usha George, dean of the Faculty of Community Service at Ryerson University, in summarizing the themes and key discussion points and resolutions borne out of the conference.

Vasanthi Srinivasan, assistant deputy minister of the Health System Strategy & Policy Division in the Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care, delivered the concluding remarks.

OMHARN aims to build the knowledge base that will help “excellent care for all” to become a reality for Ontario’s multicultural population; support patient-centred care that is responsive to diverse individual needs; enhance understanding of how people from diverse ethno-cultural and religious backgrounds seek health care and their experiences within the health-care system and access to the health-care system, with a view to providing integrated care across multiple access points.

“We are coming to the end of the first year of OMHARN and will start the next year further developing this cross-university/sector partnership devoted to multicultural health in Ontario,” says Khanlou.

For more information, visit the OMHARN conference website or Nazilla Khanlou’s website.