Virtual conference aims to boost health equity for B.C.’s South Asian population

Happening from June 18 to 20, virtually over Zoom, the conference will explore how integrated thinking in the context of COVID-19 can reduce the burden of chronic diseases.

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A virtual conference this weekend will seek ways to boost health equity for South Asians in B.C., a population that has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

The conference, organized by the Canada India Network Society on Zoom, will begin Friday and continue through Sunday.

It will look at ways to close gaps in the health system in culturally effective and efficient ways.

The three-day event will host globally recognized experts from health care organizations, academia and technology communities. Over 250 attendees including B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix, health innovation professionals and public policy advisers will take part. The conference will be open to the public.

There are eight health services areas in B.C. — divisions within health regions — where at least 25 per cent of people identify as having South Asian descent. All eight were among the 13 areas where B.C. scheduled special vaccine clinics because of high COVID rates.

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But Dr. Arun Garg, founder of the Canada India Network Society, said the gaps go well beyond COVID.

“There needs to be an urgent call of action on chronic illness like diabetes and hypertension for South Asians, particularly amidst COVID when we saw dramatic health disparities. Part of this is patients need to be empowered to take ownership of their health through integrative, culturally effective means,” he said.

“A big role is understanding the health system’s structural issues that are relevant to the South Asian community, because gaps exist.”

Research, treatment, innovation, and prevention will be among the areas discussed at the conference. Panel discussions will feature forward-looking health experts from both Canada and India on ways to transform the health system from concentrating on curing illness to focusing on keeping people well.

H. R. Nagendra, personal yoga consultant to India’s prime minister, will be a keynote speaker on the role of yoga in health. He is also chancellor of Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, a university devoted to yoga.

Underlying chronic illness, culturally ineffective approaches with the health system, lack of data, and other factors were leading causes for the dramatic spike in the number of COVID-19 cases for B.C.’s South Asian population, a press release about the conference said.

In conjunction with the conference, a South Asian health fund has been set up through Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation, to support research and advocacy on mental health, opioid addiction and brain research among people of South Asian descent. The funds would assist health professionals working with South Asian community members, particularly recent immigrants, refugees and international students.

The conference is expected to wrap up by making recommendations on improving health care for South Asians, including working with government to focus on research, advocacy and development of a health strategy specific to South Asians.

Twitter: @Pratyush_Dayal_

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