May 9, 2008

New Health Clinic Focuses on Refugee Health Care

By Jessica Nicholas

Worldwide, there are almost 14 million refugees. These are people who have been forced to leave their home country out of fear of losing their lives. According to the International Rescue Committee, approximately 80,000 refugees have resettled in San Diego since 1975.

Providing health care services for refugees is a complex process. Refugees are required to have a health screening when they enter the US. In San Diego, the Catholic Health Charities provides this initial screening.

While there are health care services available through various charity medical providers and the government-provided insurance, Medicare, other barriers exist to receiving care. These include language, not knowing the services available, and a lack of cultural sensitivity from medical providers.

The Alliance Health Clinic was created in order to eliminate these barriers and further serve the health needs of refugees and recent immigrants in San Diego.

The Clinic started as a dream of Alliance for African Assistance, a non-profit organization in San Diego that helps refugees with resettlement. The organization already provided a variety of services to refugees, including job training and educational development yet at the time they did not offer health care services. Recognizing that this was a pertinent need, the Alliance Health clinic opened in August of 2007 after 3 years of planning.

According to Silvia Poleti, the Patient Administrator for the clinic, “Our clinic was created to serve people of all colors, ethnic, and religious backgrounds in a culturally sensitive manner.” The Alliance Health Clinic was specifically designed to aid underprivileged and underserved refugee and immigrant populations.

In San Diego, there is a diverse mix of refugees. Refugees come from almost every continent, which is illustrated by the patients they serve. “We have the United Nations of patients,” says Poleti.

In order to better serve their patients at the Clinic, services are offered in several languages, including Swahili. They also have a computer program that can translate up to 80 languages.

In addition, transportation is another important service they provide. Many of the families they serve do not have access to a car so they provide pick-ups, if needed.

Also, there are unique medical needs for refugees. Many are coming from harsh conditions, including places with violent conflicts and a lack of access to medical care. The clinic staff has treated war wounds, old bone fractures that have not healed properly, and different diseases not normally seen in the United States.

The Clinic provides basic primary medical care and health education services. These include such services as birth control, Diabetes management, immunizations, pregnancy tests, mental health screenings, Sexually Transmitted Disease tests, hypertension management, and more. Currently, they have a pediatrician, family practitioner, and an Obstetrician/Gynecologist on staff. For any other care a patient can be referred to a specialist.

They aim to provide medical care to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. “Health care is not a privilege it is a necessity, it is a right,” says Poleti.

To find out more about the Alliance for African Assistance, you can call the clinic directly at (619) 229-8030 or visit their website at

The Alliance Health Clinic is located at 5952 El Cajon Boulevard. They accept walk-in appointments and any health insurance plan.

Jessica Nicholas is an intern with the UC San Diego Comprehensive Research Center in Health Disparities (CRCHD) and is double majoring in Biology and International Studies at UCSD. The CRCHD is a partnership of organizations focusing on community minority health and health disparities research.

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