Ryerson midwifery professor Manavi Handa, pictured here in her office, is appealing for students to help her find proper care for pregnant newly arrived refugees. (Kara Anderson/Ryersonian Staff)

A Ryerson midwifery professor is helping newly arrived refugees find proper care, and is appealing for Ryerson students to assist her.

In January, Manavi Handa arrived at a hotel in Toronto’s west end where she was told there was only one pregnant woman. After learning the Arabic words for “midwife” and “pregnant” — qabilat and hamil — she walked through the hotel repeating these words to groups of women.

Handa discovered that many women were pregnant but afraid to come forward.

She is using her industry connections to find proper care for her 18 clients at the hotel, but she said she will be unable to see them through the entirety of their pregnancies (as most she assumes will be moving to Mississauga).

According to Handa, here is plenty of room for Ryerson students to help. “This is really important,” Handa said. She said students who speak Arabic would be helpful.

There’s also a need for transportation to get women to and from doctor appointments. Handa suggested early childhood education students could help watch children while the mothers go for their appointments.

Both privately and government-sponsored refugees have medical insurance packages once they arrive in Canada, but they need help navigating the healthcare system as, back home, many were used to birthing procedures that Handa calls unsafe.

She was was shocked to find many women have had cesarean sections. Some, she said, have had five. According to Irin, a news agency that covers humanitarian crises, one hospital in Homs, Syria, delivers 75 per cent of babies through C-sections compared to 30 per cent in Ontario – and that’s considered high.

Handa said a Syrian woman told her doctors get paid more per C-section.

One of the women at the hotel told Handa she gave birth on the side of the road after fleeing her home. Another said she went into labour, which stopped for nearly a week. She came to Handa concerned there might be something wrong with her baby or herself.

Handa added there’s a tremendous amount of resilience in the refugees. “I know refugee trauma usually takes years to surface, but these people are very strong.”

This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Feb. 24, 2016.

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