Mini-IPHU highlights health struggles for Seattle immigrant and refugee communities

Taking up from the model developed by PHM-Canada, PHM-USA held its first “mini-IPHU” in Seattle April 21-22. It was two powerful days of learning, community-building, and organizing for action around the right to health.

Over the course of the two days the IPHU had about 45 participants which included members of the Somali refugee community in Seattle, medical and public health students, health professionals, and local activists.

Image Theater representing political economy of mental healthThe first day we focused on building our common language and understanding around health as a human right.  Leigh Haynes (PHM-USA) presented the legal framework of the right to health, the importance of social determinants of health in achieving the right to health, and particular challenges in the United States. Baijayanta Mukhopadhyay (PHM-Canada) got participants thinking about the political economy of health and mental health using Image Theater. During this activity participants “sculpted” images by posing their fellow participants to demonstrate the concepts that health is a product of decisions that people in power make and how they spend money. To wrap up the morning, Julia Robinson (Health Alliance International, PHM-USA) talked about health services and systems, exploring the notion that health systems are a lens through which we can view society as a whole.

Power Struggle activityKokaale Amissah-Aidoo (Hesperian Health Guides, PHM-USA) facilitated a compelling activity, Power Struggle, which demonstrated how societal perceptions of race, class, employment, immigration status, gender and many others impact people’s daily lives. Participants examined their own power and privilege in society and how this profoundly affects our work.

The next presenters shined a bright light on real life challenges facing immigrant and refugee communities in the Seattle area. Ahmed Abdille (Somali Health Board) and Farah Mohammed (University of Washington School of Social Work) presented some of theAhmed Abdile talks about health challenges for immigrants and refugees in the Seattle area. mental health challenges with which immigrants and refugees struggle as well as difficulties organizations that serve these populations can face. Two representatives from the Kenyan Mental Health Forum of King County presented a wonderful case study of how the Kenyan community in the Seattle area is tackling the growing concern of suicide amongst Kenyan immigrants.

The second day we focused on action. We looked at what we as a community can do to address some of the challenges that were raised during the first day’s discussions. Small groups identified four areas for potential action: (1) strengthening links between health providers, (2) community and citizen action for health/health policy, (3) public education on the realities of immigrant and refugee experience, interventions around the initial refugee resettlement period as critical for health outcomes (including mental health), and (4) improving access to mental health care among immigrant and refugee communities in Washington State.

Presenting ideas for action

Participants worked through a group investigation activity that Kokaale led to identify community-based and public organizations and authorities that could be involved in an action. Participants discussed the potential and limitations of collaboratian with those groups and best ways to initiate outreach. Moving forward, participants will continue to work together to build actions to tackle some of these issues.

This IPHU was made possible through the work of dedicated volunteers and the support of Health Alliance International and its Board of Directors, Doctors for Global Health, Hesperian Health Guides, and the University of Washington Department of Anthropology. Special thanks to Julia Robinson, Christina Lavette, and Farah Mohammed for their work on the ground in Seattle to ensure that this IPHU was a success!