Giving birth with dignity, the editorial by Marie-Andrée Chouinard

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Giving birth with dignity, the editorial by Marie-Andrée Chouinard

It is not enough to want to inflate the belly of immigration, as the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, wants to do with an inordinate appetite, by aiming for 500,000 immigrants per year by 2025. It is still necessary to be able to welcome them with full respect for the principles of respect for life and dignity. This is currently not the case, and it has negative and dangerous impacts on the health of pregnant migrant women and their babies.

The duty recounted on Thursday the sad story of this migrant woman with HIV who unfortunately transmitted the virus to her baby, for lack of being taken care of early enough by a pregnancy monitoring team. Without official medical coverage, waiting for the precious papers giving access to free care, patients like this vulnerable and sick woman find themselves in perilous situations, unworthy of Canada.

Doctors and specialists interviewed by journalist Isabelle Paré are worried about finding more and more cases of HIV-positive immigrants diagnosed or treated late, with high risks of transmission of the virus to the fetus. Nowadays, however, when antiretroviral treatments are administered quickly, this risk is almost nil. At the hospital, the doctors observe with horror that these women are victims of the excessively long waiting times that migrants now face when they arrive in Canada.

While they should normally have access within 24 hours to the official interview sealing their asylum seeker status, and giving access to free health care in Canada, the wait is now several months. Worse, the HIV test normally administered at the entrance, and whose result must be sent quickly, also falls into the abyss of undue waiting. Pregnant HIV-positive migrant women without means — and sometimes without awareness of their state of health — end up in the hospital only at the time of delivery. It’s far too late.

This situation has been denounced many times and highlights one of our formidable Canadian paradoxes. While it opens the floodgates to immigration without its reception and integration system being developed, Canada prides itself on being a great defender of women’s health in countries where access to health care of health is deficient. Funding to support the health of women and girls around the world amounts to several hundred million dollars a year. This improves our image abroad in terms of international rights, but it might be worth examining ourselves first. We would quickly realize that, in our country, certain rights protected by the Charter, such as the right to life, security and liberty, are fragile.

Quebec too should finally take the step expected of it in this regard. In a report published this summer by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec — Portrait of pregnant women without health coverage in Quebec —, we learn that in 2021, Quebec hospitals received in the delivery room 1,363 women who were not eligible for the free health care access plan. Pressed for a long time by groups defending the interests of women and migrants, the Government of Quebec has everything in hand in this report to finally take the decision to put an end to this absurd situation, where migrants find themselves in the limbo of the waiting, insecurity and precariousness.

In June 2021, Quebec provided access to this valuable health coverage for children of parents who are awaiting official status. He then claimed not to have a sufficiently precise portrait to be able to do the same with pregnant women. The truth is that it is precisely impossible to obtain an accurate portrait of the situation, the absence of official papers making it difficult to access certain data. Four recommendations emanate from this report, ranging from status quo to full healthcare coverage. It is to be hoped that Quebec will choose the most dignified option.

Because it is indeed of dignity that these women are deprived by prohibiting them from favorable conditions for monitoring their pregnancy. Forced into a parallel form of life, they deprive themselves of often crucial care – the World Health Organization estimates that pregnancy monitoring includes 12 medical visits – which can make it possible to detect anomalies and prevent the risk of complications at childbirth. Forced into undue expectations and uncertainty about fundamental rights, do these women wonder in which country they landed? Probably not the Canada they had imagined.

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