Women's College Research Institute

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Tailoring health care for recent South Asian immigrants

Dr. Ophira Ginsburg

April 2012

Many people in low-income countries view breast cancer as a curse and a death sentence. Women who seek treatment frequently risk divorce or abandonment, and often die without seeking care.

“These attitudes follow immigrants when they arrive in Canada, making this population particularly vulnerable to undiagnosed breast disease,” says Dr. Ophira Ginsburg, Women’s College adjunct scientist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s department of medicine and Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Ginsburg wants to gain a better understanding of how Bangladeshi women who come to Toronto are influenced by their own – and their families’ – assumptions about breast cancer. To do that, she’s linking the expertise of her collaborators in Dhaka, Bangladesh with the community workers at the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, Crescent Town – an agency that serves new, primarily Bangladeshi immigrants.

“We’re examining factors that may influence how women in Bangladesh seek health care for a breast problem, and comparing our findings to factors that influence Bangladeshi immigrant women in Canada,” says Ginsburg.

And it’s a good thing, because preliminary results indicate that these two populations aren’t as similar as might be assumed.

“We expected that for women in Toronto, like in Bangladesh, patriarchy would be a major contributor to women’s decision to seek breast care,” says Ginsburg. “But many of these women are more concerned about becoming a burden by asking a family member to accompany for their health-care visits.

Ultimately Ginsburg feels the insights gained will inform best practices in both countries, both for breast cancer care and for a wide array of other health conditions.

“This is likely a barrier that impacts health care for many diseases, not just breast cancer,” says Ginsburg. “We need to understand how women are making decisions to seek care, so that we can create the most effective targeted interventions.”

Dr. Ophira Ginsburg is also the medical director of cancer prevention and screening at Lakeridge Health’s R.S. McLaughlin Durham Regional Cancer Centre in Oshawa.

A rising star

Ginsburg’s work in Bangladesh has earned her one of 15 Rising Stars in Global Health Awards from Grand Challenges Canada. It’s the second year in a row that a Women’s College scientist has won. Her team’s pilot project – the only breast cancer project submitted – will use mobile phone technology to improve breast cancer diagnosis and care in Bangladesh. The result: a sustainable model to diagnose and treat other chronic diseases in similar low-income countries.


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