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City Heights Groups Want East African Immigrants To See A Doctor Before They Need One

San Diego County and its community partners are marking Valentine’s Day with free health health screenings, including in City Heights.

Community organizers in the City Heights area are encouraging members of the region's East African population — the second-largest concentration in the U.S. — to seek preventative health care.

A flyer for the City Heights Community Health Fair scheduled for 2 to 6 p.m. on Feb. 14, 2017 at the East African Cultural Center on Fairmount Avenue.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Not too many hard numbers are available on health issues facing the East African population, unlike other migrant groups in the country, according to UC San Diego Researcher Kate Murray.

"...[R]elative to other migrant groups (such as Southeast Asian and Latino communities) there is little information regarding changes in health for Africans following migration," said a 2013 report that Murray co-authored. "The limited research to date suggests rising chronic disease incidence and barriers to access and utilization of health care services."

To help expand access, Family Health Centers of San Diego and other groups are hosting a free health screening Tuesday as part of the county's Love Your Heart initiative. The Centers' community clinics serve uninsured and low-income patients, including many immigrants and refugees.

The organization's Bethlehem Degu said the community health event can help patients identify issues before they become bigger problems.

“Data shows that there’s been low utilization among the preventative services and screenings among the East African community," she said. "So we’re really trying to encourage having them come out."

Degu said limited data available focuses generally on East African immigrants, but Family Health Centers is working to collect specific information on the East African patients that it serves.

Ramla Sahid, founder and executive director of the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, said more focused data collection would be a key step to addressing diseases that ail the East African community, such as cancer. She said many diagnoses happen late.

"When it comes to cancer screenings, that's where our community is faring the worst," Sahid said. "A lot of these are detected at later stages and when people who have only a few weeks or a few months of life left, so it's really heartbreaking."

Sahid, who is a member of United Women of East Africa Support Team, said the organization reviewed hospital data in an attempt to identify types of cancers that commonly afflict East African refugees. However, she said information was only available for African Americans in general, instead of by country of origin.

"Especially when you live in a high refugee community, you want to be able to provide real care that meets the people's needs,” Sahid said, “and if people are invisible, you can't really meet their needs."

According to the 2013 report by Murray, Amina Sheik Mohamed and Godelievre G. Ndunduyenge, which included a focus group with 40 East African women, barriers to care included cost, the need for interpreters and "trust and comfort with medical providers and system."

At the City Heights health fair, attendees will receive blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings, diabetes tests and other exams. The event will also include refreshments and activities. It's organized in part by the Dunya Women's Health Collaborative, which launched in July and focuses on immigrant and refugee health, Degu said. The collaborative is funded by the Office on Women's Health within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the organization that conducted the review of hospital data.

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